There are few better areas in Montana to discover the crossroads of iconic “Big Sky” landscapes and early western expansion than MCC’s Central Divide region. Based in Helena, the state’s capital city, the area was first charted by Americans during the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition. Many of these high plains, great rivers, and rugged mountains are just as wild as when the group trudged up the mighty Missouri over two hundred years ago. Today the area is largely comprised of the Helena National Forest, which includes wilderness and a game preserve, and remains a safe haven for large predators. This region was also home to the Last Chance Gulch gold claim that produced some 50 millionaires and dispersed $3.6 billion (in today’s dollars) into the economy. The end result is a region packed with unique western history and classic Montana recreational opportunities.
MCC members in the Central Divide region receive exposure to a variety of projects and ecosystems during their term of service. At any given moment during the season, crews may traverse into remote wilderness settings completing trail work or wade into the state’s waterways to remove invasive species. Being located on the Rocky Mountain Front allows our members to serve in the coveted Frank Church, Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Gates of the Mountains Wildernesses. With that amount of backcountry work, it should come as no surprise that crews often go out on extended projects; some as long as 20 consecutive days. When crews descend from the mountains and onto the high plains the work becomes as expansive as the open range. Crews may find themselves restoring habitat in the nearly one million acre Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge or collecting native seeds in the Dakotas. Whatever your interest, Central Divide provides crews with a rich field experience.
During its gold rush days, Helena was widely known as the “Queen City of the Rockies.” The mining days subsided but the city still wields a great deal of influence with land and wildlife management practices in the West. By housing many state and federal agencies, Helena is a city on the move. The abundant activity creates countless avenues for members to pursue their interests and engage with others in the community. Helena maintains the status of a quiet undiscovered city filled with folks looking to get outside. That’s an easy thing to do considering Helena has the second largest city park in the country (surpassed only by New York’s Central Park). The vibrancy of civic activities, a plethora of recreation, and some knee slapping bluegrass festivals make the city a fine jewel in the Treasure State.
OUR PUBLIC LANDS
A big draw to the area is the proximity to nearly every type of recreation that exists in the state. The foothills right above Helena hosts a vast network of trails that provide outstanding opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and exploration within the city limits. Just outside of town, the blue ribbon status of the Missouri River draws fly fisherman from around the Rockies. However, if you’re in search of boots on the ground adventure, the revered Continental Divide and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trails are a short car ride away. Wildlife viewing or long distance backpacking opportunities are abundant in the Helena National Forest, which boasts nearly one million acres of prime habitat for lynxes, wolverines, and grizzlies. It may come as a surprise that Helena is nearly equidistant to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks (three hours respectively), so don’t forget to plan an extended trip to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country—if not the world.