By Jamie Blotske
Born and raised in Montana, year-round recreation has always been a way of life. Growing up in Big Sky country, outdoor etiquette was automatically instilled in who I was and am to this day. It is something I take very seriously and have made sure to pass on to my children. As Southeast Montana is our home base, we are particularly protective of it and its future. We want our children, grandchildren and beyond to enjoy its pristine beauty, wide open spaces and historical wonders as much as we have. In order to make sure of that, responsible recreation is not only something we teach and talk about, it’s the example we lead and live by. Essentially, we “practice what we preach.” Staying safe, being responsible and having fun all tie into following these crucial steps, as you recreate:
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
I can’t tell you how many times I have “learned my lesson” on this one. One of the key threads throughout all of these steps is to NEVER ASSUME. Often times, with familiarity comes over-confidence which then leads to assumption and assumptions are not, I repeat, NOT guarantees. As a long-time resident to Southeast Montana, I have made many assumptions based on my familiarity with an area or recreation site and have many times missed the mark! Learn from my mistakes! Do your research and make any necessary phone calls before you head out on your adventure. Make sure that your desired location is open and in full operation before arriving. There is nothing worse than showing up to a museum, attraction or recreation site only to find that it is either closed or has very limiting restrictions. Do yourself and your party a favor by doing the appropriate work ahead of time, sparing everyone the disappointment!
We’ve all heard the saying, right? “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” After my many times of “winging it”, I have to fully agree with this statement. While still in the comfort of your own home, look ahead to your final destination and make a list of everything you will and might need. Once again, do not assume that certain amenities will be available to you. It is far better to have more than enough than not enough. Key essentials that I always pack with me include: water, snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, first aid kit, extra shoes and clothes.
PRACTICE PHYSICAL DISTANCING
Now, more than ever, this step is an important one. As the world continues to navigate its way through a pandemic, it is in everyone’s best interest to be mindful of physical distancing. The great thing about Southeast Montana is the fact that there is PLENTY of space to spread out! Take advantage of the openness this area provides. There is no need to invade someone’s personal bubble. While you might be ok with rubbing elbows with a stranger, they might not be; it is crucial that we respect one another’s personal space.
PLAY IT SAFE
Did anyone else get the “better safe than sorry” speech from a grandparent or parent? Well, they were right! As you plan for your next adventure, do a proper evaluation of yourself and your group. Meaning, know your personal and physical limitations. As a mom with three small children (ages 5 and under), our family has a very good understanding of our boundaries. We pick trails that are suitable for the little legs in our lives. While scrambling across a boulder field might sound thrilling, it would most definitely not be safe for our young family. Stay within your limitations. Stepping outside of your limitation box could easily cause for a miserable experience, or even worse, could result in injury.
BE WILDLAND FIRE AWARE
Say it louder for those in the back! Please, please, please check local guidelines concerning campfires before you even think about starting one. Taking it one step further, please, please, please FOLLOW those guidelines. Sadly, we see the results of poor campfire decisions EVERY year in Montana. If guidelines state there is a burn-ban (which is the current status in Montana), then don’t start a fire! Duh! If and when we are able to have campfires again, make sure that you put it out. All it takes is one spark, which is why it is critical that you fully distinguish a fire.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Pack it in, pack it out! As a graduate of the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program at MSU-Billings, the Leave No Trace principles were the foundation to which everything else was built upon. If there is one thing that can ruin an outdoor experience for someone else, it is ignoring this simple rule right here. Once again, I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered trash left from a previous group at a campsite or on a trail. It’s sad, disheartening and disappointing, to say the least. Don’t be that person! I always have zip-lock or plastic grocery bags on me to pack out my own trash, as well as the trash of others.
BUILD AN INCLUSIVE OUTDOORS
This isn’t high school. There are no “cliques” out here. The outdoors is an environment for all! Be friendly to those you encounter along the way and encourage others to get out and explore. If there is one thing we all need in life, it’s fresh air and the great outdoors! Invite friends and family to join you on your next adventure. It’s important that we contribute to the building of a community that loves, cherishes and respects mother nature. When we work together, we can accomplish a lot. Let’s work together in keeping Southeast Montana the place we know and love!