By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Located just 15 miles south of Big Sky off Taylor Fork Road, Trapper’s Cabin Ranch is an idyllic getaway nestled against the untamed Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Previously under private ownership, the historic ranch’s new steward envisions making this special place accessible to all through year-round programming.
Since buying the 640-acre ranch in spring of this year, Bozeman-based nonprofit Crosscut Mountain Sports Center has been developing a long-term strategic plan for how to best manage the property for both community use and land preservation.
Crosscut is located 17 miles north of Bozeman on 500-plus acres in the heart of the Bridger Range offering year-round recreational opportunities for the public. After buying Trapper’s Cabin Ranch, the nonprofit hired Managing Director of Trapper’s Cabin Ranch Angie Weikert and Community Outreach Manager Sinclair Welch in late June. Weikert has since been gathering community feedback and hosting pilot programs to inform her plan.
“What we’ve learned so far is this place is really special and we want to make sure we protect it and are good stewards of the land,” Weikert said.
The ranch has five cozy cabins that can sleep up to 30 people as well as several outbuildings. All but 30 acres of the ranch are protected from development by a conservation easement.
Executive Director of Crosscut, Jennifer Beaston, said that this particular easement is intended to protect the fragile grizzly, wolf, moose and elk habitat. She added that the easement stipulates that the land can always be a working ranch meaning horses and cattle are allowed but no motorized vehicles are permitted on this small corner of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The origins of the ranch can be traced back to when Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785 which divided land west of the Appalachian Mountains into mile-square parcels for settling. A trapper named Tom Lincoln built the ranch’s first structure in 1910 giving the ranch its name.
Museum of the Rockies Co-founder Dr. Caroline McGill purchased the ranch from what is now the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1940. After Doc McGill passed, the Martin family took over the ranch in 1965. Virginia “Ginny” Martin spent summers at the property for decades and was known for her philanthropy and support throughout the Bozeman and Big Sky communities.
When Ginny passed away in 2016, the Martin family decided to sell the property and initially listed it for $15 million. In February of this year, one of Ginny’s granddaughters approached Beaston to brainstorm how the ranch could more broadly serve the surrounding communities.
“I knew that this was a property … and our board and all the donors knew that this was a property, that we very much wanted to be very thoughtful about how we plan for its uses so that we could keep protecting the ecosystem,” Beaston said.
Not long after starting a discussion with Crosscut, the Martin family offered the nonprofit an opportunity to purchase the ranch. Crosscut’s board of directors signed a buy-sell agreement on March 8 with one caveat: Crosscut had eight weeks to raise almost $2.9 million in cash to purchase the property at an 80 percent reduced price.
Bolstered by support from philanthropic partners in the Big Sky and Bozeman communities, Crosscut was able to raise the money and signed the purchase agreement on April 29.
The Yellowstone Club, Moonlight and Spanish Peaks community foundations each contributed $50,000 to the purchase and anonymous individuals associated with the Yellowstone Club and Moonlight Basin gave an additional $30,000.
“Our interest in helping them, one was conserving that parcel and having that under ownership of a proven nonprofit partner of ours, and then just the public accessibility of such a beautiful location,” said Ciara Wolfe, VP of philanthropy at YCCF. “It’s just an amazing place and so to have that be publicly accessible through the programming of Crosscut and what they choose to do at Trapper’s Cabin just seemed like a win-win.”
YCCF has funded Crosscut’s programming at its Bridger location in the past and YCCF board member Andrew McEntire will serve on Crosscut’s advisory board. Beaston said Crosscut has been asking donors and partners for feedback on how to make the ranch a place that the Big Sky community can enjoy.
Beaston said that she has been excited by the response Crosscut has received from the community organizations and individuals who are helping to shape future programming.
Weikert, who has a masters in science education and is currently working on a PhD focused on place-based education, said she invites any feedback the Big Sky and Bozeman communities have to offer and said that this coming spring there will be a more structured way to submit it.
“Accessibility and inclusivity are really important for us,” Weikert said. “Helping people that don’t normally get to access wild places, we want this to be a spot for them.”
Weikert named horseback riding and fishing as possible programs and emphasized her focus on supporting access for everyone in her planning. Place-based education, she added, is another key piece of her strategic plan.
“We’ve done one pilot program up there, and it went really well. We’re looking forward towards more of those,” she said.
Crosscut will continue piloting different programs with the goal of rolling out a full lineup of programming in 2023.
Beaston said the long-term hope is to expose as many people as possible to the ranch while still keeping the ecosystem pristine. “We really saw it as one of those places where it’s hopefully a once in a lifetime experience [that] you never forget and shapes who you are as a person, for the rest of your life.”