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Backcountry Film Festival returns to Big Sky

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Still from “Next Stop Sneg,” a short film by Marco Tribelhorn included in the Backcountry Film Festival. PHOTO COURTESY OF WINTER WILDLANDS ALLIANCE

Outdoor recreation and conservation group hopes to grow its local community and raise funds by hosting event

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

On Jan. 26 and March 9, the Madison-Gallatin chapter of Wild Montana will host screenings of the Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival, featuring 12 short films made by winter backcountry explorers. The film festival began in 2005.  

Doors will open at 5 p.m. at The Independent for 6:30 p.m. showings, with tickets available online and at the door for $15 or $10 for children under 12. Wild Montana purchased rights to screen the films from Winter Wildlands Alliance, and proceeds from the Big Sky showing will fund the local chapter of Wild Montana in its efforts to protect public lands in Madison, Gallatin and Park counties. Although the Backcountry Film Festival is sponsored by Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance, the Big Sky showing is an unaffiliated fundraiser for one of seven regional chapters of Helena-based grassroots conservation organization Wild Montana

The Backcountry Film Festival “ignites wild conversations and inspires action to communities that celebrate the present while looking towards the future,” according to the event website. Wild Montana board member Tom Ross said this will be the fourth winter Wild Montana has brought the festival to Big Sky, and the first in-person since 2020.  

“[The films] are trying to empower people to do good things in the outdoors,” said Wild Montana board member Tami Clark, who attended past showings and is responsible for bringing the flicks to Big Sky this winter.  

A Bozeman resident, Clark has been collecting prizes from Big Sky businesses for a raffle which will take place at each event. She said that purchasing $10 worth of raffle tickets will count as the enrollment fee into the Madison-Gallatin chapter for those who wish to join. 

“We’re getting more boots on the ground in these heavily-trafficked [outdoor] places in the summer,” Clark said. “Tourists often don’t understand the leave-no-trace ethics, and they’re often out here hiking unprepared. We’re trying to educate people at the trailheads, how to act on the trails.” 

Volunteers lead a hike in July 2011 to Cowboy Heaven in the Madison Range with a view of the Tobacco Root Mountains. PHOTO BY SUSIE MCDONALD

Clark explained that Wild Montana is a 501(c)3 organization that sees great value in protecting the character of—and public access to—outdoor recreation areas. Local volunteers lead cost-free guided group “wilderness walks” year-round to introduce and educate explorers in the region’s backcountry. The group performs trail maintenance at Beehive Basin, Lava Lake and Cliff Creek.  

Clark said Wild Montana’s central Helena office focuses on educating voters on conservation laws with the goal of “[earning] Wilderness designation with a capital ‘W’” for certain vulnerable regions, but local chapters consist of volunteers looking to act on their passion for the outdoor spaces in their region. 

In October 2022, Madison-Gallatin Chapter volunteers and Forest Service staff finished the “turnpike section” to halt erosion on a wet section of the Deer Creek Trail. PHOTO BY TOM ROSS

She gave an example from last summer, when chapter funds helped a University of Montana student volunteer as a wilderness ranger in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The Forest Service provided a cabin for her to live in, and the Madison-Gallatin chapter paid for her gas and food. The chapter will sponsor another ranger in 2023.  

Ross described a trail stewardship program in which the chapter posts volunteers near crowded trailheads or peaks in the summer to greet hikers and inform them of good practices to minimize human impact. He also described the “wilderness mini-grant program,” which provides scholarships of $500 to $2,000 for Ph.D. candidates researching wildlands or wilderness research. 

“I love the organization,” Clark said. “[It’s] a lot of young people fighting the fight for these wild spaces… Getting involved with Wild Montana has really opened my eyes and exposed me to so many parts of the state and the conservation work going on.” 

Founded in 1958, Clark said Wild Montana is one of the oldest outdoor conservation groups in the state. The Madison-Gallatin chapter is made up almost entirely of volunteers, including Clark, and collaborates primarily with only one paid staff member from Wild Montana.

Volunteers and staff at the Wild Montana table at Bozeman’s 2022 Christmas stroll. Left to right: Tami Clark, volunteer Doug Bartholomew and Hannah Breslin. PHOTO BY ROGER JENKINS

Hannah Breslin is the field coordinator for Wild Montana’s Madison-Gallatin chapter and Southwest Wildlands chapter in Butte. She joined in August and has an extensive background in environmental nonprofits and education between Wyoming and Alaska. She helps connect the pair of local chapters to relevant land policy issues unfolding on the state and national levels.  

“The largest part of becoming a member is you’re supporting the policies that we stand behind,” she said. A large part of her role is to connect members’ and volunteers’ love of wild places with Wild Montana’s advocacy efforts.  

With regards to the Big Sky community, Breslin said the local chapter provides a great way for outdoorspeople to connect with each other, and to have a means of getting involved with environmental activism on the trails they share.  

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