MISSOULA — It's arguably one of the most dramatic landscapes in a state full of dramatic geography.
But beyond the mountains and prairies, the Rocky Mountain Front represents what we hold most precious about Montana, history, vistas and a future full of appreciation.
This weekend, fans of "The Front" are being given a chance to dive deeper into this special region.
While many places along the thousands of miles where the Rockies meet the prairies are seeing rapid development, Montana's Rocky Mountain Front remains much as it has been for the last 100-plus years.
That's not happening by chance. Over the past decade remarkable progress has been made in preserving The Front, the doorstep to the "Crown of the Continent."
"There's almost 200,000 acres, maybe more now, of private conservation easements, not counting the government landscapes. No, it doesn't matter on their political persuasion. Everybody's up there to preserve and protect that Rocky Mountain Front because they know it's their livelihood, said University of Montana lecturer and geographer Rick Graetz said.
And it's supporting and learning more about that unique blend which is the goal of the grassroots effort "This is Montana," which is sponsored by the University of Montana, Glacier National Park, Montana Wilderness Association and other educational, government and public organizations and groups.
The goal is to not only illustrate and explain what the Front means, but to encourage more Montanans to treasure and experience the Front.
"We have to consider what kind of development in Montana is sustainable, meets the environment. This is part of the Crown of the Continent and people can live in the Crown as long as they are in harmony with it," Graetz told MTN News. "Well the people up there are. It's driven by agriculture, by outfitting, recreation. So we're trying to bring people to this area to celebrate it. And to convince Montanans to go visit these places. You don't have to go out-of-state to see some of the best of the West."
Starting Friday morning, some 60 students from area high schools will take place in a writing workshop, followed by an afternoon tour of the Sun River Game Range, and then dining with the Friends of the Rocky Mountain Front at the Stage Stop Inn.
Saturday the day starts with programs touching on wildlife, management opportunities and challenges as well as history, and presentations on ranching and farming. There will also be an outing to the Pine Butte Preserve, where grizzlies come right into the prairie east of Ear Mountain.
"We're really looking at how Montana's landscape drive our economy now. It's not like it used to be. It's recreation, it's a lifestyle. It brings people here who can afford to be here and brings jobs with them often," Graetz said.