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The protectors of the trails

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The rushing current of the Gallatin River tumbles down Ousel Falls in a damp haze on an early June morning. PHOTO BY KATE BATTAGLIA

A perspective on hiking from a Big Sky Trail Ambassador

By Kate Battaglia  EBS Contributor

BEEHIVE BASIN – The snow-crested mountains of the Spanish Peaks Range stretch across the horizon, their jagged peaks silhouetted by the sun. I crane my neck in an effort to capture glimpses of mountain goats moving across the distant slopes. Despite the blistering heat, Beehive Basin Trail rustles with an abundance of wildlife. My eyes sweep across bundles of native Indian Paintbrush flowers in the wild grass lining the trail. Intermixed within the floral patches lies a Gatorade bottle.

As an avid hiker within the Big Sky area, I aim to contribute to the trails which have provided me – along with fellow hikers – a place to escape from the bustling Town Center. The opportunity of being a trail ambassador for Big Sky Community Organization seemed like a role too fitting to overlook. 

The trail ambassador program was initiated by the Big Sky Community organization around five or six years ago, and as of summer 2021 has five active participants. For the past few years, I’ve hiked Big Sky’s most popular trails like Ousel Falls, the Uplands Trail and Beehive Basin Trail, and observed the conditions of each individual trail. Unfortunately, their popularity yields some downsides. 

On my many hikes, I’ve discovered a great deal of waste scattered along each trail. As a Trail Ambassador, it is my role to remove any waste found along the trails. 

Mackenzie Johnson, head of the Trail Ambassador program emphasizes the recent growth of tourism seen this summer, describing it as “exponential.” Johnson adds that this increase is “most visible in the trails and parking lots.” Picking up pieces of litter and dog waste may seem to be quite a monotonous and draining job, but I’d argue otherwise.

Being a Trail Ambassador grants me a unique opportunity to give back to the trails which have given so much to me. As someone who resides in Dallas, Texas an area characterized by its expansive flatness, I am continuously awestruck by the mountainous beauty of the area. With the growing popularity of Montana, I strive to do as much as I can to provide others with the same experience. 

I encourage others who possess the same adoration for the Big Sky ecosystem to try out the Trail Ambassador position. Not only do we preserve the natural beauty of each trail, but we also maintain the overall safety. After the completion of a hike, trail ambassadors report back to BSCO to inform them of the quantity of the people on the trail, the amount of garbage found and any potential hazards. 

“We don’t have enough staff to hike every trail every day so the trail ambassadors can help us in reporting any hazards, like a fallen tree or other obstacle,” Johnson said.

Individual efforts, while small, become part of a larger preservation project, and every little bit counts.

Johnson added that the outreach made possible by the trail ambassadors not only aids in the preservation of the trails but also in “educating people on the proper etiquette.” This aspect is also increasingly prominent as “populations are visiting the area who aren’t used to the wildlife or the altitude,” she said. 

The role of a trail ambassador is not only to preserve the trails for the community of Big Sky, but for visitors who desire to experience the stunning trails. Locals and tourists alike all must play their part in maintaining the Big Sky community.

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