Positive change happening in the Crazy Mountains

Dale Sexton, Guest columnist
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
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I’ve lived in Livingston all my life, and some of my earliest and best childhood memories involve public lands. Exploring and camping in the Gallatins. Fishing in the Absaroka Mountains. Hunting with my dad in the Crazy Mountains.

I’ve built a life around these lands, helping families create memories of their own, first as an employee/guide for Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop, then through founding the outdoor store Timber Trails. Over the years, I have seen the demand for recreation grow, but also the demand for access. 

The epicenter of that battle is in the Crazy Mountains. For more than a century, the checkerboard pattern of land ownership has fueled a lot of controversy within, and on the outskirts of, this island mountain range. 

But recently, several of us locals have been working together to clean up the confusion and create some predictability for recreationists and landowners alike. In doing so, we are slowly rewriting the narrative in the Crazy Mountains from one of conflict to one of cooperation and pragmatic collaboration. 

While we might not agree on everything, we are finding we have more in common than not, and people are taking notice. There are lots of opportunities for folks to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Just last year, the Crazy Mountains witnessed four milestones that are helping advance our long-term goals of consolidating public lands, protecting wildlife habitat and resolving long-simmering access conflicts. 

The U.S. Forest Service has indicated that resolving conflict in the Crazy Mountains are one of their highest priorities in our region. They have outlined a step-by-step process to reach their goals of resolving decades-long trail conflicts and consolidating the checkerboarded landscape of private and public ownership in these remarkable mountains.


Trail improvements 

This past summer, the Forest Service completed Phase II of the reroute to the Porcupine Lowline trail. The old route crossed several miles of private land and was the cause of ongoing trail conflicts. When completed, the new trail will connect the Porcupine and Ibex cabins and create a west side recreation loop. Thanks to the work of a few committed people who saw a problem and sought to solve it, we now have a permanent non-motorized and fully legal public trail for the next generation of outdoor users to enjoy. 


South Crazies Land Exchange

Last year, the Forest Service made progress toward consolidating lands on the southern end of the range with their South Crazy Mountains Land Exchange proposal. The exchange was initially controversial because a portion of the swap gave up some high-value, lower-elevation public land habitat. In 2020, the Forest Service listened to the public and removed the more controversial lands from the swap, which gave it a much better chance of becoming a reality. Once completed, the South Crazies Land Exchange will consolidate key inholdings and will leave the door open for future work on the southern end. 


New access for Big Elk drainage

In 2020, the Forest Service established a new public access on private lands on the eastern side of the Crazy mountains. This new public route in the Big Elk drainage is the culmination of more than a decade of conversations and negotiations between state agencies and a local landowner. This is another important accomplishment, as Big Timber Creek is currently the only official public National Forest access on the entire eastern side. 


East Side Land Exchange 

Finally, in 2020, the Crazy Mountain Access Project went public with a citizen-proposed land exchange for the eastern side. This proposal intends to improve public access, consolidate public lands, and protect wildlife habitat. The East Crazies and Inspiration Divide land exchange would consolidate critical wildlife habitat and build a new trail that will unlock 30 square miles of consolidated mid-elevation roadless lands for hiking and hunting. While we are still working out the final details, we hope to formally submit the proposal to the Forest Service in the days ahead.  

The common theme for all these accomplishments is a commitment to find common ground. Through thick and thin, neighbors have been working together to improve the situation in the Crazy Mountains. And finally, after years of conversations, we are starting to see the results on the ground.  

This work will continue, but it will take time, vision, and commitment. The path forward will require many small steps over a lifetime. We should celebrate each small step we take, as we work to pass on the grandeur of these mountains to the next generation. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: Dale Sexton is a lifelong resident of Livingston, and the co-owner of Dan Bailey’s Outdoor Company. Learn more about the Crazies effort at www.crazymountainproject.com.


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