Elk NetworkEdith Peak Montana – onX Public Access Project

Conservation , onX Public Access | June 1, 2019

Filling the Gaps for Edith Peak

1,120 acres of habitat protected and secured for public access   

Opening morning of Montana’s fall youth deer opener last year found me and my 13-year-old son Jackson climbing a Forest Service trail at the base of Edith Peak north of Frenchtown. He led the way as we hurried to gain a potent-looking ridge by shooting light. We aimed to then filter downridge in search of whitetails that might not be looking skyward for danger.

Just weeks before, RMEF had protected 1,120 acres on the upper reaches of this very path, and while hiking up to take photographs, I’d seen numerous deer. 

Dawn beat us to the ridge but the wind held steady and as we approached, three large dark forms rose from their beds in a pocket of timber less than 100 yards away. Wide racks swung to face us as three bull elk stood broadside. 

Jackson’s head then swung my direction, eyes the size of saucers. 

“Dad…elk are huge!

He’d jumped cow elk before, but never mature bulls. Unfortunately, on this day just prior to the official opening of general rifle season, elk were off the menu. All we could do was enjoy the spectacle. The trio, of course, hesitated just long enough for Jackson to have made a killing shot, then crashed away into the timber in the way only bulls can, seeming to shake the earth and uproot entire trees as they departed. In an instant, our morning was made. Regardless of whether we saw any deer (we didn’t), I knew Jackson would never forget it. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists estimate at least 500 elk roam the area, which is also home to numerous white-tailed and mule deer, moose and black bears. It has also held an occasional grizzly in recent years, which are increasingly being spotted along this key wildlife corridor connecting the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Ninemile Divide to Fish Creek and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to the south.

Stimson Lumber Company owned the two parcels RMEF purchased, both inholdings surrounded by a sea of Lolo National Forest. The company had long allowed public access and hoped to see that continue after the sale. Using vital funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, RMEF bought both parcels and conveyed them to the Forest Service in September 2018, forever filling those gaping holes in the ownership map into a solid block of public ground. They are now owned by all of us and open to hunting, hiking, mountain biking and other recreation.