By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Custer-Gallatin National Forest is partnering with groups around the region to host a series of events this summer and fall, including community celebrations and a series of running races.

The festivities will take place in Bozeman’s Lindley Park and Livingston’s Sacagawea Park, and “The Race Around the A-B” series will take place in five small communities surrounding the 943,626-acre Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness: Livingston, Gardiner, Red Lodge, Absarokee and McLeod.

The events this summer are meant to raise awareness and get people thinking about the value of these public lands.

“My goal is to promote Wilderness and to get people out to all those little towns,” said Kat Barker, a Wilderness Ranger for the Custer-Gallatin Forest who is coordinating the events.

“In days of increased population, technology and mechanization, [the fact] that we have places in our country and the world where you can get away from that [is important] – having protected lands that are virtually left alone by human processes.”

Congress signed the Wilderness Act into law in 1964 almost unanimously, establishing 54 areas and 9.1 million acres in 13 states. Five of those original areas were in Montana: the Anaconda-Pintler, the Bob Marshall, the Cabinet Mountains, the Gates of the Mountains and the Selway-Bitterroot.

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness was created in 1978, and it is now one of 758 designated Wilderness Areas equaling 109.5 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico, according to Barker. The Lee Metcalf Wilderness in the Madison Range north and south of Big Sky was added to the system in 1983, making it Montana’s newest Wilderness area and bringing the total in the state to 15.

Barker is working with a race director in each town, as well as the Livingston outdoor store, Timber Trails, and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation.

She plans to run in each of the races in her ranger uniform, hosting a fun “Race the Wilderness Ranger” contest. “If you can beat me you get a special prize,” she said, laughing, adding that the idea is not for her to win. But watch out – she is an endurance machine who skate-skied 269.5K in 24 hours during the 2010 Equinox Challenge in West Yellowstone, and regularly runs up Bridger Bowl before work.

Celebrations

Longest Day of Wilderness

Lindley Center, Bozeman

June 21

Livingston Farmer’s Market

Sacagawea Park, Livingston

July 16

4:30-7:30 p.m.

Run around the A-B race series

Night Owl Run

4.06 miles

Livingston – Sept. 5

Big Bear Stampede

6K, 8K

Gardiner – Sept. 20

The Nitty Gritty

Half, marathon, full marathon, relay

Red Lodge – Sept. 21

Stillwater Fun Run

5K, 10K

Absarokee – Oct. 4

Raw Deal Run

3 mile, 6 mile

McLeod – Oct. 11

Find more information at abwilderness.org.