Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

By Roger Dey
Blackfoot Valley Dispatch 

25 Years of Challenge

Blackfoot Challenge celebrates silver anniversary with party in Ovando


August 22, 2018

Roger Dey

Good Old Fashioned, a bluegrass band based in Missoula, entertains the crowd as the sun goes down.

Downtown Ovando came alive last week as the Blackfoot Challenge hosted a Summer Party in the town square to celebrate the organization's 25th anniversary.

The celebration kept things small and local, reflecting a renewed effort by the Blackfoot Challenge to reconnect more directly with the communities in the valley.

"It became apparent in 1993 that we'd sort of forgotten a lot of stuff. We forgot about this, about bringing communities together," Blackfoot Challenge Chairman Jim stone told the crowd as he kicked off the party. "It's about people, and sometimes folks like myself, we get all wrapped up in our own little deal and think thats what it's all about. This is what it's all about."

The party featured a beer garden provided by the Stray Bullet, steak sandwiches from Lindeys Steakhouse in Seeley Lake, local vendors selling art and baked goods, live bluegrass by Good Old Fashioned and information of stewardship and bear awareness. It stood in contrast to the more formal affair to celebrate the organizations 20th anniversary hosted at the Paws up resort in Potomac in 2014.

"We decided... to do something small, but centered in the valley," Blackfoot Challenge board president Jim stone said, "and bring the people together and just have a good time and not make a fundraising deal out of it."

Stone has been a part of the Blackfoot Challenge for its entire 25-year history and said the organization reflects the unique nature of the Blackfoot Valley and its residents. He said it's part of the legacy started by property owners, organizations and government agencies who began making strides in collaboration back in the 1970's, "before conservation was sexy."

"It takes 40 years of working together to build something to the point it is now," he said. "building that trust and credibility is really important."

In his experience with the Challenge, Stone said the best thing he's seen is the involvement of people he never thought would come to the table.

"They don't believe in what Jim Stone always believes in, but they believe in this valley," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a fish person or a cow guy or a farmer or a recreationist, this has all got to come together; we have all got to understand the complexity of this valley."

Unlike Stone, the executive director of the Blackfoot Challenge is the new kid on the block. Charles Curtin took over as executive director in February but brings to the Blackfoot a background in watershed alliances like the Challenge.

"I've known the Challenge for a decade. It's fascinating to sit behind the curtain and see that they really mean what they say and do what they say," he said.

Coming into a well-established organization can sometimes mean inheriting a lot of problems, but Curtin said the foundation built over the past 25 years by the Blackfoot Challenge means he's dealing with opportunities instead.

"I look at it as kind of having that foundation to move forward," he said. "It takes decades to build that trust and now that we have it, we can harness it and use it."

One of the questions Curtin is grappling with for the futures is the preservation and economic viability of rural communities.

Roger Dey

A mounted grizzly used in bear awarenesspresentaton sports a little girls hat while Montana FWP bear specialist Jamie Jonkel discusses the status grizzlies in the Northern Continental divide Ecosystem.

"A big focus of ours is housing, jobs, sustaining rural communities and agriculture," he said. "I think that's something that's always been a part of what we've done, but we're being much more deliberate and specific."

Curtin said that doesn't mean they'll be taking anything away from the programs the Challenge has developed in the last 25 years. Instead, since most of those programs are established and running well, they can now look to other issues that the Challenge may be able to help with.

One example he pointed to is the work Karyn Good has been doing on the ground in Lincoln in her role as the Blackfoot Challenge economic coordinator.

Curtin sees direct engagement with the communities in the watershed as key to expanding the Challenge's focus as it moves into the future.

"It's one watershed with seven very different, discreet communities, and of course there's a lot more for us to do within that," he said. "We're there to serve, locally, the entire watershed."


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