Gary's July 2003 Progress Report

"This map wildlife corridor routes from the north end of the Absaroka Range and identifies probable the north end of the Gallatin Range across Interstate 90 to the Bridger Range."
(Note: Bridger Canyon Lodge is in the red zone)

In late July, I attended a Forestry Stewardship Workshop given by the Montana State University Extension Service. This is a course designed to help landowners evaluate their forest land and formulate plans for its management. The trip was also a chance to get a status update on the Carriage House and on plans for the Main House.

While changing planes in Salt Lake City, I spied Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer in one of the shops. The "hook" on the cover reads: "In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mount McKinley.... Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter..." . I could not resist, and spent the flight to Bozeman reading it, finishing that night by flashlight, alone in a tent on our property. This is NOT a good book to read when heading off to Montana to camp out alone. However, I highly recommend the book, so I won't give any more away than to say it's more about detective work and psychology than about wild animals. It was a fortuitous circumstance that we had listened to Jack London's To Build a Fire on our previous trip to Bozeman, as that story relates to Krakauer's in several ways.

Unfortunately, the plan to camp out did not work as well as desired; the tent was damaged twice by the violent winds and rain of thunderstorms. On one occasion, only two hours after relocating to a "better" site (above), I evacuated from a collapsed tent and rain-soaked sleeping bag during thunder, lightning, wind and pouring rain. Sliding down the wet clay of the road (the gravel is still "in the mail"), I knew I would not be able to make it back up for a day or more. Here is a picture of the tent partially repaired after that storm.

All in all, I wound up spending more nights in a hotel than in the tent. The tent is now repaired, but next time I'll take the mountain tent as a backup!

The forestry course is aimed at private owners of forested land in Montana. It includes 32 hours of in-class instruction, piles of resource literature, the loan of specialized equipment to inventory your forested land, and 4 hours of private consultation with an expert forester on your land. Cost: $45 (and that's tax deductible). The true cost is supported by grants from government and nonprofit organizations trying to promote better practices by private land owners.

The good news is that the trees on our 196 acres are in generally good health; however, there are problems in the nearby national forest that could spread if we don't take some measures against it. Much of our forest is too thick, so we will be looking into selling some of the larger trees to pay for thinning the rest to a healthier density. We will also try to attract more of the birds that can help stop the spread of insect-borne disease. Another problem we have is noxious weeds; there are Musk Thistle and Canada Thistle outbreaks as well as Hound's Tongue and Leafy Spurge that need to be controlled. We are assessing non-chemical approaches, including bugs and seeding. The fact that we have greatly reduced grazing will also help the desirable plants become more competitive.

I was able to inventory only a small portion of the property during the 4 day break between the 3rd and 4th days of class. This involved a lot of bushwhacking to locate the randomly selected inventory plots. Part of this was in the area where I spotted the bear just 3 weeks before, so I whistled "Stars and Stripes Forever" as I went from one plot to another (I have heard that bears hate that tune). The only sign I saw of the bear was fresh scat (if you don't know, don't ask). I also came across a rack of moose antlers that must have been 10 or more years old. While walking the property with the forestry expert, we came across evidence of coyotes.

Part of the value of the course is meeting other landowners from the area. At lunch time on the first day, I introduced myself to the person behind me (Duane Denton) and suggested we go to lunch together. After a few minutes of discussion, I determined that he was George Christie's cousin (we bought the property from the Christie trust) and had attended Lower Bridger School! Another couple were avid bird watchers and were able to tell me that one of the birds we keep hearing (but never see) is an owl; it sounds like a hoarse dog trying to bark.

During my 11 day stay, there were several important milestones for the Carriage House.

The well drillers (upper left quadrant of the picture) finally found just over 15 GPM of water at about 600'; we were surprised that we had to go so deep (over 200' deeper than Bridger Creek on the canyon floor). The site is within spitting distance of Place Creek, which runs at 50 GPM or better year round, and there are plenty of water hungry plants around. Apparently, there is a solid layer of rock that keeps a lot of water near the surface.

There are now power outlets at the site; the transformer is visible just above and right of center. Power and phone are underground from the highway, so they don't interfere with the ambiance coming up the drive.

The footings for the foundation were poured in the heat of a 98° afternoon. Within hours, there was a thunderstorm that cooled things off and wet the site down, which helped the curing process. The actual foundation and work on framing should start soon. Once the foundation is poured and cures, the site will be filled so the Carriage House will sit at ground level, with access at both ends for vehicles to drive in and out.

We are converging on the plans for the Main House. One of our goals for the house was to make sure it appears as "modest" as possible from the outside. We were reasonably happy with the previous appearance, but the most recent set of revisions will make the house significantly more modest in appearance. People arriving at the house will be quite surprised when they enter and find it is almost 6,000 square feet, since it should look more like a 2 bedroom home from outside.