GORDON REESE CABIN, BEAVERHEAD-DEERLODGE NATIONAL FOREST, MONTANA
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 continued to be so well-liked that by 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 Forest Service national 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, Forest Supervisor Dave Myers put an end this successful partnership, contending 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.
The Club’s Board of Directors attempted to work with officials from the Forest in search of an equitable solution to alleged regulatory violations, to no avail.
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest instead pursued agency-wide policies to charge for all amenities, even those provided by volunteers, and by its actions demonstrated that it has no interest in allowing the public to continue enjoying the free use of the Chief Joseph Ski Area.
The Ski Club strongly opposed these efforts 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 was insignificant. Why should the public now have to start paying the Forest Service to use this public land?
The Forest Service eventually offered a “compromise.” They would allow the cabin to be used for free in winter, but only if it’s reserved through the privately-operated website recreation.gov, which charges a $9 fee for the service. The club rejected that proposal and withdrew from their volunteer agreement. The Forest lost their volunteers without gaining the rental revenue they sought. The only winner in this sad tale is recreation.gov.
A Government Agency Running Amok
In-depth analysis of the larger implications of how the Forest Service has treated the volunteer efforts of the Bitterroot XC Ski Club, authored by club president Michael Hoyt.
An Agency Running Amok
Gordon Reese Cabin – The Legal Issues
What the Forest says are the legal issues, and analysis by club attorney George Corn showing why their claims are nonsense.
Gordon Reese Cabin Legal Critique Part 1
Gordon Reese Cabin Legal Critique Part 2
Forest Supervisor Letter to Club
Summary of Legal Critique
Media – Gordon Reese Cabin
2015_09_16_Volunteers needed for Gordon Reese Cabin
Senator Baucus Letter of Support
Letter from Senator Max Baucus to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell urging him to address the ski clubs concerns and preserve their volunteer efforts on behalf of the Gordon Reese Cabin.