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Old-school values: Sportsmen offer help to landowner with long history of providing public access

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Old-school values: Sportsmen offer help to landowner with long history of providing public access

The popular hike to Sweathouse Falls on the Bitterroot National Forest wouldn't be possible without access provided to the trail through the Hackett Ranch west of Victor. 

For years the public has benefited from the old-school values of the Hackett family of Victor.

Whether it’s enjoying the popular hike to Sweathouse Falls or hunting elk in the fall or turkeys in the spring, the Hackett family has been generous in its approach to public access to their ranch.

On Saturday a group of sportsmen volunteers will give back through a service day of pulling out old barbwire along the ranch’s boundary that will allow for better movement for wildlife.

Along the way, they’ll also talk about a proposal for a conservation easement on 540 acres of the family ranch.

The proposed conservation easement through Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks would forever protect public access to the popular Sweathouse Creek hike. Currently, the last bit of the road to the trailhead, the trailhead itself and the first part of the trail are all on the Hackett ranch. There is no public easement in place.

The easement would also allow for public access to the ranch for hunting. The Hacketts were among the first in the state to sign up for FWP’s block management program 25 years ago.

“It’s always been one of those things that’s important for us,” said Scott Hackett. “We enjoy the walk into the forest and the peace and quiet we find there. Why not share that with others?”

At a time when ranches are changing hands, new landowners often look for ways to keep people out.

“Something that I’ve come to appreciate about the Hackett family is the value that they hold on public access,” said Bitterroot National Forest Stevensville Ranger Steve Brown. “They owned that ranch for 100 years and have always encouraged people to access the forest through their place. And now they are pursuing this conservation easement that would ensure that folks would have access forever.”

“Other places in the valley, especially on the east side, the first thing new landowners do is shut down trails or roads to trailheads,” Brown said. “The fact the Hacketts are working to ensure public access for future generations is commendable.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Rebecca Mowry said they have been working on putting the conservation easement together for about two years. The appraisal of the property is now underway.

“When we get that back, we’ll know how much money we’ll need to raise,” she said. “We haven’t done any fundraising yet, but we’ll kick that into high gear when the appraisal is completed.”

The consideration of the easement has been endorsed by the Fish and Game Commission.

Mowry said both elk and turkey hunters take advantage of access to the private land through the block management program. The conservation easement would lock that access into place.

“The Hacketts have been very, very generous with their land for public access,” she said.

Members of the two sportsmen’s groups say the service day is their way of saying thanks to landowners like the Hacketts who play a key role in providing wildlife habitat and helping with its management.

“The Hackett family has graciously welcomed public hunters onto their land for years, and we believe that providing some boots on the ground to help remove this fencing is the least we can do,” said Tom Puchlerz, MWF board president. “MWF and our affiliates are committed to working with landowners to get better outcomes for their ranching operations as well as for wildlife and public hunters, and this service day is a great opportunity to do that.”

Tony Jones, president of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, said his group is always looking for on-the-ground work it can do in the Bitterroot Valley. The service day will also help highlight a significant conservation project using hunter license dollars through the Habitat Montana program.

“Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association loves to work on these tangible projects in our valley that benefit wildlife, habitat, public hunters and landowners, so we are happy to turn out volunteers for this work,” Jones said.

Anyone interested in helping can call MWF Conservation Director Nick Gevock at 406-533-9432.

“We appreciate the support and good work the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association does for wildlife, habitat and access in our valley,” Hackett said. “Support of our efforts to secure a conservation easement on our property to keep it intact and to continue public access is very important to our family.”

The Hackett family has been in the valley since the 1800s, when Hackett’s great-great-grandfather moved to the Victor area as one of the original three owners of the Curlew Mine.

Scott Hackett said there are basically two reasons the family wants to see the ranch put in a conservation easement.

“We don’t want to see the ranch subdivided and houses put on it,” he said. “And we don’t want to see someone buy it and make it their own private resort … We want to keep that public access component available so folks won’t get locked out.”

Hackett said his family has always been firm believers in allowing public hunting on the ranch.

“The fish and game can’t manage the elk numbers unless we allow that,” he said.

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