Peter Aengst

Peter Aengst

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Hundreds of Montanans from all over the state converged on Lincoln, Montana, recently to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Scapegoat Wilderness, an area of about 240,000 acres located south of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northwestern Montana.

Like our nearby Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the Scapegoat is a source of pride for those who have outfitted, hiked, or hunted there for decades. But what makes the Scapegoat Wilderness different is its origin story, as it was the first citizen-driven Wilderness in the United States.

At the time, the Forest Service recommended building roads into “the Lincoln backcountry.” In response a handful of local citizens organized over a half-century ago to protect its crystal-clear waters and mountainous landscapes from logging and road-building. Republican and Democratic members of Montana’s delegation, listening more to the citizenry than the agency, then moved to secure designation of the Scapegoat Wilderness in 1972.

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Peter Aengst is The Wilderness Society’s northern Rockies senior regional director. He lives in Bozeman.