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Hooked on the Gallatin educates, raises funds and inspires hope for river conservation

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(L-R) Kristin Gardner, Erika Flowers, Tom Skerritt, Tom Kiernan and Eric Ladd onstage during the discussion about how to protect rivers in big and small ways. PHOTO BY JENNIFER CLANCEY


Editor’s note: Outlaw Partners is the publisher of Explore Big Sky and is the producer of the Wildlands Festival.

Anyone working to conserve rivers has a story. For Tom Kiernan, CEO of the river-focused conservation nonprofit, American Rivers, that story began at the river across the street from his family’s home in Washington, D.C. Kiernan grew up in a small family and lost his father in the Vietnam War. He and his older brother would spend their free time by the creek, where water would eventually flow into the Potomac River. 

“It was honestly, that amount of time spent in that creek and around the Potomac River where I felt comfort and found a sense of peace,” Kiernan said. That feeling stuck with him in high school when he learned about the environment in an environmental science class. “This place that gives me peace, these creeks, these rivers; that takes care of me emotionally, there’s a science to all of this and there are some threats.” 

On Friday, Aug. 4, the annual Hooked on the Gallatin charity dinner and auction in Big Sky worked to address the issues threatening Montana’s riverscapes. People mingled under the Big Sky Events Arena tent during a rainy evening to enjoy hors d’oeurvre, bid on big ticket auction items and learn about river conservation from a star-studded panel. The proceeds went towards the Gallatin River Task Force and American Rivers for river conservation.

A River Runs Through It

A key member of that panel, Tom Skerritt, known for his role in the movie A River Runs Through It, shared his passion for conserving fresh waterways.

“My God to see all of you here,” Skerritt said during the panel to the full tent of attendees. “Just, thank you.”

“I see the rivers like they are blood vessels in my body,” he said.

Skerritt was joined by Kristin Gardner, chief executive and science officer at Gallatin River Task Force, Kiernan and local North Face and Protect Our Winters athlete, Erika Flowers. The discussion was led by Eric Ladd, chairman and founder of Outlaw Partners.

“The rivers are really integral to our life,” Gardner said, describing all of the activities that bring people together on the banks of the Gallatin and nearby rivers.

“I hope that people become engaged in our work,” she continued. “We really need for people to come together to make a difference whether that’s calling our delegation to support the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act or volunteering to help us move our project forward.”

The Montana Headwaters Legacy Act aims to protect segments of major waterways such as Big Sky’s very own Gallatin River and others nearby like the Yellowstone and Madison rivers. When passed, the legislation would protect 385 miles of 20 new Wild and Scenic Montana rivers.

“Over 80% of all wildlife species need rivers for a key part of their life cycle. So, whether you care about yourself, your kids, wildlife, river health matters,” Kiernan said, urging Montanans to unite under this important, single cause.

“Climate change is water change,” he said.

Making change through stories

Flowers, who was born and raised in Montana, provided examples of change-making conversations.

“I think we often go to the outdoors whether it’s the river, the mountains, the ski slopes to get away but one of the things that comes out of that are stories and stories are what bring people in,” Flowers said during the panel discussion.

“Where you really make changes are with one-on-one conversations…talking to the person across from you where people start to actually think differently and maybe what they always thought may be slightly different,” Flowers said.

Other key moments of the night were a week-long private trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with Boundary Expeditions that went for $100,000 in the live auction, copies of A River Runs Through It signed by Skerritt, and a stand up comedy lineup to close the night out with comedians Orlando Leyba and Forrest Shaw.

Hooked on the Gallatin was the first night of the Wildlands Festival, a weekend-long festival that raised awareness and funds for river conservation through concert ticket sales and donations. The event featured headliners Lord Huron on Saturday and Foo Fighters on Sunday, and ultimately raised over $513,000 for Gallatin River Task Force and American Rivers.

“I remember all this driving out on the old Highway 66 and I started going up into the mountains in California, looking for gold by the way, that’s what a lot of people were doing in the early ‘60s in the rivers” Skerritt said, reflecting on his road trip through California.

“And I just went in the river, never minding the gold. That was the gold I was looking for, the river.”

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