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GORDON REESE CABIN MONTANA
VOLUNTEERS QUIT IN DISPUTE WITH FOREST SERVICE
More than a quarter of a century ago (1985), a group of private citizens, primarily residents of Montana's Bitterroot Valley, believed that having free locally-accessible groomed cross-country ski trails would provide a much-needed recreational benefit to the public. They founded the non-profit Bitterroot Cross-County Ski Club and, after four years of discussion and persuasion, received permission from the Forest Service to place a system of ski trails at Chief Joseph Pass. Through the continued volunteer work for trail layout, maintenance, grooming, and money-raising required for support of these activities, the public has had the free use of 24 kilometers of some of the finest groomed cross-country ski trails in Montana.
When, within a few years of establishing the trails, the Ski Club recognized the need for a warming hut along the groomed trails, the Gordon Reese Cabin was conceptualized, funded, and built by Club volunteers with generous contributions in time, money, and materials from many local businesses and individuals. Upon completion in 2001, the Cabin was made available for free public winter use and subsequently placed on the Forest Service’s summer-rental program. Since inception, Club members have continued to fund, operate, maintain, and repair the Chief Joseph Trail System plus maintain the Gordon Reese Cabin for free public winter use, all on a completely uncompensated volunteer basis. Without those initial and continuing volunteer efforts, neither the trails nor the warming and overnight cabin would even exist.
The trails and warming cabin were immediately popular with the public, and continue to be so well-liked that, during the most recent ski season (2011-2012), use exceeded 9,000 visitor-days, 10% from out of state visitors. For 23 years the Club's arrangement with the Forest Service—which essentially allowed the Club’s members to donate their labor, money, and time to support the trails and Cabin—has not been questioned - in fact it was approved by numerous Forest Service Supervisors and rewarded with National Forest Service awards. Theirs is one of the few instances in the United States where a group composed exclusively of volunteers successfully operated facilities on public land on a long-term basis for the free use and benefit of the public.
THE END OF THE LINE
Unfortunately, on February 2, 2012, an employee of the USDA Office of Ethics sent an email to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest that is now being used as an excuse by Supervisor Dave Myers to place the continued operation of the Chief Joseph Ski Trail System and Gordon Reese Cabin by the Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club in jeopardy. The lawyer essentially advised that it was a breach of ethics for Forest Service employees to allow the 23-year old operating agreement between the Forest Service and the Club to continue.
Since receiving the warning, the Club’s Board of Directors has attempted to work with officials from the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in search of an equitable solution to the supposed regulatory violations alleged by the attorney.
Despite the long history of volunteer success providing free use of public lands at Chief Joseph Pass and multiple meetings with agency officials, it is now clear the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest District is determined to implement agency-wide policies to charge for all amenities, even those provided by volunteers, and that it has no interest in allowing the public to continue enjoying the free use of the Chief Joseph Ski Area.
The Ski Club is opposed to and rejects all current and future efforts by the Forest Service officials to convert the Chief Joseph Ski Area and the Gordon Reese Cabin from free-use public facilities into a "pay-for-play" fee area designed to add funds to Forest Service coffers. Thanks to volunteer efforts and contributions collected by volunteers, the cost to the Forest Service is insignificant. Why should the public now have to start paying the Forest Service to use this public land?
Arrangements like this, which allow for the free public use of the public’s national forests, should be encouraged, not forbidden. The Ski Club is asking the Chief of the Forest Service to bar any change in the status quo of the longstanding operational procedures between the Forest Service and the Ski Club volunteers. Unless that effort succeeds, they will withdraw from participating in the maintenance and operation of the Cabin. At this time the Club intends to continue their volunteer trail maintenance and grooming.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
You can support the Bitterroot Ski Club's efforts to get the Chief of the Forest Service to intervene on behalf of continued free winter use of the Gordon Reese Cabin by sending a short, polite message to these key officials:Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell firstname.lastname@example.orgNorthern Region Forester Faye Krueger email@example.comBeaverhead-Deerlodge Forest Supervisor Dave Myers firstname.lastname@example.orgNorthern Region Fee Program Manager Margaret Gorski email@example.comPlease cc your message to Bitterroot XC Ski Club President Michael Hoyt at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is some suggested language; please modify this and put it into your own words:
I ask that you reverse the decision to begin charging for winter use of the Gordon Reese Cabin at Chief Joseph Pass on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The cabin materials, the labor to build it, and ongoing maintenance have been donated by local businesses and volunteers with the understanding that winter use would always be free. Chief Joseph Pass is a unique historical area and the Bitterroot XC Ski Club's volunteer efforts there were offered as a free gift to enable all Americans the opportunity to experience this special place. The decision to charge for winter use is a breach of promises made to the public and should be rescinded.
You can read media stories about the Gordon Reese Cabin dispute HERE.