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Instilling wildlife conservation and wilderness ethics at Jack Creek Preserve



Programming includes summer camps, pack trips and bow hunter education

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

Twelve years ago Jon and Dottie Fossel set aside land intended as a gift to Big Sky and Ennis residents, establishing the Jack Creek Preserve and a legacy of wild land, where people can learn about wildlife, nature, conservation and hunting. Early on, Jon envisioned summer camps for kids learning about wildlife and wilderness survival, fall bow hunter’s education classes, and cross-country ski trips in the winter, and his vision has been carried through.

Set amid a backdrop of 4,500 acres, bordering sections of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and offering critical wildlife habitat, the Jack Creek Preserve is managed by the Jack Creek Preserve Foundation, which works with local schools and nonprofits to host events and offer recreational opportunities.

In addition to established hiking or skiing trails that connect to the Spanish Creek and South Jack Creek Forest Service trails, the preserve offers cabin rentals and a large campground that can host as many as 60 people at a time. There’s also a public archery range with 3-D animal targets open most days from May to October. Currently, mountain biking is not available at the preserve, but JCPF director Sarah Tilt said establishing mountain biking trails is on the foundation’s radar.

The preserve is free and fully available to the public, however recreationists must get pre-approval and a code to access the private Jack Creek Road. Those interested in exploring the preserve can contact foundation staff and fill out appropriate waivers by calling (406) 995-7880 or emailing

This summer, the preserve will host two youth summer camps, held July 20-23, and Aug. 3-6. The programming will focus on teaching outdoor skills and conservation, with the first camp highlighting archery and the second focused on wilderness. Participants of the first camp will have an opportunity to earn their Bow Hunter Education certificate. Campers will stay at the preserve and in addition to archery, they will be exposed to fly fishing, photography, wildlife tracking and mapping.

“So many kids don’t really get outside,” Tilt said. “To give them an opportunity to get outside … that’s really what we want to do.”

“The original intent [in creating the preserve] was youth education, conservation, encouraging a hunting ethic,” she said.

Aug. 11-13, the public is invited to come on a guided pack trip through the preserve and surrounding Lee Metcalf Wilderness with Adventures Outfitting of Ennis as the guide. Guests will ride about three hours to Shadow Lake and can spend the second day fishing, hiking or riding before coming out on the third day. As many as 10 can come on this adventure and registration is available online. As of July 14, this trip was still available.

On Aug. 23, the Jack Creek Preserve will partner with Seasonal Montana, an Ennis-based farm-to-table catering service, in hosting a farm dinner that highlights produce and meat from local farms and ranches, with wine and craft beer pairings by Vino Per Tutti and Dean’s Zesty Booch.

To conclude the August programming, the foundation will offer a Bow Hunter Certification class Aug. 25-26. This class is open to anyone ages 11 and up and will teach shot placement, equipment care, and tree stand setup and safety. Participants will also learn the importance of stewardship, wildlife and natural resource management, and the hunter’s role in conservation.

“The mission of the foundation is focused on creating an understanding of the relevance of hunter-based conservation,” said foundation board member Brian Benyo. “Hunters and hunting as a tool to manage wildlife was well established throughout history,” he said, adding that funds raised by the hunting industry have initiated and enabled efforts to conserve and maintain many wildlife species. “[Without those efforts] we certainly wouldn’t have the diversity we do of wildlife in this country,” he said.

“We are 4,500 acres that connect to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness,” Tilt said. “We want to protect [this area]. This land is truly a corridor for wildlife, all kinds of wildlife travel through here.”

“The preserve stands as a symbol to what individuals can do to preserve wildlife,” Benyo said.

Jack Creek Preserve is offering a chance at two unique hunting opportunities this year. Raffle tickets are on sale for either an archery or rifle elk hunt, which may be purchased by phone or ordered online. All orders must be received by 5 p.m. on July 31, as the drawing will be held on Aug. 1.

“It is our belief that hunting can foster a deep love and respect for the land, the wildlife it supports, and the outdoor experience,” Jon says on the foundation’s website. “We believe that honest, ethical hunting for free-ranging animals kindles vitality in the individual hunter, deepens appreciation of wildlife and wildlands, and strengthens society as a whole.”

To learn more about the Jack Creek Preserve and any of the foundation’s summer or fall programs, visit

Editor’s note: The Aug. 25-26 Bow Hunter Certification class has been postponed. A new date has not been set as of Aug. 4. Call the preserve at (406) 995-7880 for more information about the class.

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