Preserving the history of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest takes a lot of hands.
From experts in archeology, wilderness packers and volunteers who care about history, maintaining important sites is a product of partnerships. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Forest Service last month honored nearly 50 volunteers, partner organizations and employees for their contributions to historic preservation.
“This is a once-in-50-year award,” said Mark Bodily, Forest Service archeologist and heritage program manager. “For what we house on the forest, it takes a team effort. We have limited resources and funding so we actively go out and solicit volunteers and partners to help maintain these resources.”
Each forest was asked to decide how it would recognize the 50th anniversary of the NHPA. The Helena-Lewis and Clark saw the awards as a way to honor those who have worked across multiple areas such as education, maintaining historic cabins and mines and prehistoric archeological sites.
The forest typically tackles two to three major historic preservation projects each year with a recent focus on historic cabins and other administrative facilities, Bodily said.
The Forest Service and Carroll College partnered in 2010 for an archeological project in the Big Belts. The project allows Carroll to take about 10 student each year to the site, said Dr. Lauri Travis, where they focus on impacts of climate change on prehistoric people.
“It enables us to have students do hands-on archaeology which is really nice,” she said. “This is all within one drainage and excavating a site back to 8,500 years, which is an old site for this area.”
Findings thus far suggest prehistoric residents adapted to changing climates. A pair of droughts about 2,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago coincided with changes in hunting habits. They stopped hunting big game in favor of smaller game and sourced local materials for tools, suggesting that drought may have temporarily broken the trade network, Travis said.
Receiving the NHPA is a wonderful recognition, she noted, as the project not only educates students but also educates the public to the heritage in their area.
“This would not be possible, any of this research, without the partnership giving these students the opportunity to do hands on research,” Travis said.
Another award recipient, Last Chance Backcountry Horsemen, played an important role in getting Carroll College to a site in the Gates of the Mountains, packing in enough gear to allow students to stay and work for a week. The organization has also been instrumental in reclamation of the Tizer Cabin in the Elkhorns.
“Part of our mission is to assist our public land managers with stock to get to all these places in the backcountry and wilderness,” said LCBH President Sherri Lionberger. “We’re often utilized for moving people as much as for moving stuff.”
The organization sees the importance of maintaining remote cabins such as the Tizer. As Forest Service use has declined, the cabins can fall into disrepair if no one is able to work on them, she said.
LCBH volunteers replaced the roof on the Tizer Cabin in July and helped build corrals and a better water source for stock animals. There are always trees to clear and trails to maintain, Lionberger said.
With the Forest Service no longer keeping its own stock for the Helena and Townsend ranger districts, she expects demand to continue for packers whether to transport camps or fellow volunteers deep into Montana’s public lands.
“It meant a lot to the group to get that award,” Lionberger said. “When you’re a volunteer you don’t expect to get recognition so that was very special.”
The Montana Discovery Foundation spends much of its resources doing interpretations for historic locations across the Helena-Lewis and Clark. Staff and volunteers lead tours at places such as Charter Oak Mine in the Little Blackfoot drainage and pictographs in Hellgate Canyon as a way to connect the public to historic places.
“These places will be around long after we’re gone so these heritage sites are one of the things the forest needs to focus on,” said Debbie Anderson, executive director for the foundation. “There’s such a vast amount of history on the forest, and bringing it to the forefront is important to us.”
Anderson sees a lot of interest in local history, with tours typically full and fundraisers for places like the Moose Creek Cabin near Rimini always well attended.
“It’s always nice to be recognized,” she said of receiving the NHPA award. “I feel really privileged to be able to do what I do.”