When I was in college at the University of Montana in Missoula, I had a housemate named Tom. Tom was a wilderness fanatic like myself. We both loved exploring the wildlands that surround Missoula.


Tom had a map on the wall where he drew a circle that encompassed a hundred-mile radius around Missoula. What Tom used to declare is that Missoula was the center of the universe when it came to wilderness. We both used to exclaim how fortunate we felt to live in a community with so much wild country so close. Missoula was, we proudly proclaimed, the Wilderness Gateway.


And indeed, if you do the same exercise, you will find that Tom was right. Within a hundred miles you can visit the Frank Church/ River of No Return Wilderness, Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Rattlesnake Wilderness, Welcome Creek Wilderness, Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, Mission Mountain Wilderness, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, Lincoln Scapegoat Wilderness, and Great Bear Wilderness.


And this was just the Congressionally designated wilderness. If you throw in the large roadless areas that are proposed for wilderness designation—something we deemed perfectly fair—the list grows substantially.


There is the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness, Sapphire Mountains/Stony Mountain Proposed Wilderness, Blue Joint Proposed Wilderness, Allan Mountain Proposed Wilderness, Quigg Peak Proposed Wilderness, Jewel Basin Proposed Wilderness, Scotchman’s Peak Proposed Wilderness, Nevada Mountain Proposed Wilderness, Flint Creek Mountains Proposed Wilderness, Electric Peak/Little Blackfoot Meadows Proposed Wilderness, the wildlands in Glacier National Park, and so on.


Well, you get my point. In terms of strategic location with proximity to wildlands, there is no large community anywhere in the West that is so favorably located as Missoula.


With the growing evidence that many people and businesses are choosing to live near natural areas, and this is translating into economic opportunity, it’s amazing to me that Missoula fails to capitalize on its unique geographical location. The old mantra of the three most important factors is real estate are “location, location, location” certainly applies to Missoula.


When I attended the U of Montana, Missoula’s moniker as the “garden city” certainly applied due to its relatively mild climate compared to the rest of Montana. However, if you were to ask people why they are relocating in Missoula, most would not name gardening as their prime motivation.


I would venture to guess that proximity to wildlands and the activities these lands supports from prime hunting, fishing, camping, backpacking, and backcountry skiing would rise to the top.

Isn’t it time for Missoula to reconsider its trademark and branding. Shouldn’t Missoula call itself the “Wilderness Gateway”?


Of course, if such a logo were adopted, Missoula could enhance its reputation by supporting the designation as wilderness of the many large roadless areas that surround it. From Scotchman’s Peak to Great Burn to Blue Joint to Stony Mountain, the opportunities for new significant wilderness areas within a hundred miles of town is great.


Missoula—Wilderness Gateway. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?



About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

6 Responses to Missoula-Wilderness Gateway

  1. avatar alf says:

    Calling itself the “Wilderness Gateway” certainly wouldn’t sit well with the commercial-extractive industries and their sycophants who control Montana’s (including Missoula’s) economy and politics.

  2. avatar Kathleen says:

    We discovered once, at a high point somewhere close to home, that we could see the Selway-Bitterroot, the Rattlesnake, Welcome Creek, Anaconda-Pintler, and one other–must have been Mission Mountain. Five wildernesses in our viewshed. How awesome is that?!?

  3. avatar alf says:

    Probably about 20 or 25 years ago, about the time the western timber industry was tanking, the city fathers of Salmon (or maybe it was the county fathers of Lemhi County), hired Tom Power, then a professor of economics at the University of Montana in Missoula, to do a study and tell them what they wanted to hear – that Salmon would dry up and blow away if the forestry circus didn’t keep sending the local mill(Champion International, as I recall) XX million board feet of logs every year. I don’t remember the exact number, but whatever it was, it was an unsustainable quantity.

    Much to the surprise and disgust of those who hired him, Tom reported back that the local extractive economy was a dead end, and that the area’s future was in nontraditional, non- extractive uses; in recreation and tourism. It pissed off the town clowns, but it proved to be true. Salmon is thriving today, and not because of logging, mining, or ranching. Sometimes the truth is hard to accept, but the truth is the truth, Kellyanne Conway and her “alternative facts” be damned.

  4. avatar Patrick says:

    The challenge is keeping newcomers and builders from encroaching on the wild lands fringes trying to capture their own “little piece of heaven”, forgetting that with each house built in the wilderness interface, a little more “wild” is taken away with it.

  5. avatar Yvette says:

    Are you sure you want Missoula to market its beauty and attraction? The summer of 73′ was the summer I got to live in Missoula. Even though I had spent the previous 4 summers in MT it was the summer of 73′ that linked me to the West for the remainder of my life. Back then and even now the buzz I hear is the ‘outsiders moving in are ruining it’. I get you on Missoula. It has a way of capturing you.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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