Make Friends of Hyalite A Friend of Yours
With spring upon us here in the Gallatin Valley, most Bozemanites are already getting outdoors more and enjoying the longer days and all the beauty our valley has to offer.
One of the most popular places in the valley for recreation is Hyalite Canyon. Located in The Gallatin National Forest just south of Bozeman, it’s an easy drive and accessible year round thanks to the efforts of a local group called Friends of Hyalite. Even if you’re an avid user of Hyalite Canyon chances are you aren’t aware of how much effort goes into keeping the canyon accessible and enjoyable for us each year. You also probably don’t know Hyalite Canyon is one of the most highly used forest service access areas in the entire Northwest Region of the United States! This translates into a large number of vehicles and even greater number of people in Hyalite Canyon year round for a variety of activities. Users often leave behind debris and cause general wear and tear on the area even with the best intentions. Fortunately, a group of local outdoor enthusiasts recognized the canyon needed an advocate to keep it in good shape and able to provide for those who enjoy what it has to offer.
Founded in September 2010, Friends of Hyalite is a 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to promoting support for conservation and recreation in Hyalite Canyon. When the organization was founded there were three board members, the minimum necessary to apply for 501(c)3 status, it quickly became apparent there was too much work for three members alone. Currently, the board consists of five members: Greg Garrigues, Teresa Larson, Hillary Eisen, Josh Fairchild, and Executive Director Joe Josephson (down from seven members since two recently moved away). There is a great deal of work to be tackled by five individuals and the group would be willing to add new board members if they found individuals who would be a good fit.
Aside from the current board members, about a dozen additional people consistently volunteer their time and are actively involved with the organization. Friends of Hyalite is always willing to take on new volunteers. According to board member Greg Garrigues, “We don’t run out of projects, we run out of people.” Greg speaks highly of his fellow board members for their enthusiasm and commitment to the betterment of Hyalite Canyon. Each member brings a different set of skills and knowledge to the group. He credits founding member “Jo Jo’s” years of tireless effort with much of the progress the organization has made to date.
Two of their bigger volunteer powered events are the twice annual clean ups held in the canyon. The spring cleanup is held on the last Saturday before the road re-opens for the season, which is typically in mid-May. This year it is scheduled for May 9th and the road will re-open on May 19th. Each year the road is closed from April 1st through mid-May to reduce the amount of traffic during the heavy run off. This prevents road material from breaking down too quickly and requiring additional maintenance. The main purpose of a spring cleanup is to remove all the trash revealed with snowmelt and prepare the area for users. Winter campers/hikers often can’t find a fire ring under the snow so they will make one and that will often result in multiple rings of rocks found in a small area. Spring clean up is held shortly before the road opens marking the end of road closure and the beginning of the summer season.
Fall cleanup is held at the end of summer due to the sheer number of people who recreate in the canyon all summer long. Each fall, Friends of Hyalite removes thousands of pounds of trash from the canyon. In past years, that number has been as high as 4,000 pounds but in recent years has decreased to closer to 2,000 pounds. Garrigues says the decrease is partly attributed to awareness of environmental issues or, more likely, due to the work of a gentleman named Kanut, an unpaid volunteer who serves as a seasonal ranger in the canyon.
Kanut’s main role is to be a positive influence on visitors to the canyon. He’s a happy face at trailheads and provides assistance to people who may need it. The Forest Service provides Kanut with a cabin and uniform; he does not carry a gun or ticket book. His mere presence coincides with the reduction of debris left behind in the canyon. He is currently finishing up his second winter season in Hyalite.
Friends of Hyalite was founded after data on the usage of the canyon was collected and it became evident there was a need for a better understanding of exactly what the canyon was used for and also, most importantly, a need to maintain the road that provides access to the canyon. The status of the road into the canyon in winter began to provide a dilemma for both county officials and local outdoor enthusiasts. Without plowing it became dangerous. But, if the road was closed for the season it was accessible only to snow machines and off limits to a large portion of winter enthusiasts who like to hike, ski, and ice climb, to name just a few winter activities for which Hyalite is known and loved.
The largest project Friends of Hyalite has undertaken is clearing the road into Hyalite Canyon. Plowing the road was the only way to provide access to the canyon and keep the road as safe as possible. The county allows Friends of Hyalite to contract their drivers to plow the road. The Forest Service can’t fund raise, but they are able to take donations from groups like Friends of Hyalite, who do have the status and ability to fund raise.
Friends of Hyalite’s main fundraiser is the annual Bozeman Ice Festival. They also get support through other community activities, general community awareness and annual giving. Micro fundraising, when a local business donates a percentage of sales from a specific item to a charitable organization, is another method used by Friends of Hyalite. During the month of March, Nova cafe donated 10% of sales from their Daily Egg Scrambles to Friends of Hyalite! Greg says that several other local businesses have held similar events.
The Bozeman Ice Festival, held annually in Hyalite Canyon, is Friends of Hyalite’s largest fundraiser. It is the only World Cup event for ice climbing in the Western Hemisphere. Without this event in Bozeman, ice climbing could not be an Olympic sport. At the last Winter Olympics in Russia, ice climbing was an exhibition event. Advocates of the sport are putting forth their best efforts to assure that it becomes a medal sport at the next winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018.
Without fundraising efforts by Friends of Hyalite and support from our community, the road to Hyalite Canyon would remain unplowed through winter preventing access. If you are a nordic skier, ice climber, ice fisherman, Christmas tree hunter, or enjoy other fall/winter activities in Hyalite, you are able to enjoy these activities thanks to Friends of Hyalite. Garrigues says there are other organizations in the valley who raise funds to groom trails in town and provide other maintenance but, Friends of Hyalite is the only group who ensures the road to the canyon is plowed.
When asked how the community can get involved, Greg says that while Friends of Hyalite are always in need of volunteers for projects, the best thing you can contribute is simply set a good example when using the canyon. “Respect the canyon, love the canyon,” he says. Always plan ahead for your visits to Hyalite, take the appropriate supplies you will need for your activity and be sure to take them home with you when you go.
Friends of Hyalite’s website can be found at www.hyalite.org but is currently being updated. The new website is scheduled to be ready shortly before the spring cleanup.
Community members can also like Friends of Hyalite’s Facebook page, which serves as a great resource for up to date information on conditions in the canyon. Road conditions, ski conditions, road hold ups and other information are all posted there by users of the canyon.