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I have a friend named Connie.

Connie lives north of Missoula, and owns an outfitting business with her husband Mack: the Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitters. They spend their summers taking folks on horseback (or on mules, which is Connie’s mount of choice) into the backcountry of Montana until their phones lose cell coverage as they weave through old growth cedar, fir and larch.

Trips into the wilderness of Montana changed Connie’s life. But most importantly to Connie, they changed her grandson Avery’s life. As any mother or grandmother knows, surviving childhood is challenging. If there is a special place or activity that gives our kids courage, focus, and strength…we do our best to cultivate that special thing that is slowly honing our children into adults.

For Avery, that special thing was atop a sturdy mount, leading a pack string through the wilderness. And for Connie, that has meant her doing all sorts of little and big things to ensure Avery – and his grandkids – get to experience wilderness for the rest of their lives.

Over the past 10 years, Connie has sat on the steering committee of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project. Sen. Jon Tester introduced this landscape-scale public lands management proposal as active legislation in June 2019. The BCSA would add nearly 80,000 acres of wilderness to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountain wilderness areas. It would protect the Blackfoot River and its headwaters streams, and increase recreational access for snowmobilers and mountain bikes. It also sustains timber jobs, and keeps Lolo National Forest healthy through forest restoration projects.

A University of Montana poll from 2018 reported 74% of Montanans supported the BCSA. But for Connie, what keeps her speaking out, writing letters, and persisting for over a decade is Avery. Moms (and grandmas!) across Montana can relate. We do hard things for our kids, and we get up again and again, every day, because moms don’t quit.

When I first met Connie five years ago, she hated public speaking. She hated crowds and doubted her ability to tell her story. Yet, she’d look at Avery and all of the other kids and families who joined them on pack trips from the previous summer, and she’d reluctantly agree. When Connie tells her story, she often wells up with tears. Folks watching her do, too.

At my job with the Mountain Mamas, I spend a fair bit of time traveling around Montana and other mountain west states meeting with women. Women who are inspired to make their slices of home the best they can be for their kids. We are all busy; we are all working at jobs, at home, at our families. It’s difficult to find time – or understand how – to make our voices heard on issues central to how we raise our families. It seems overwhelming, and like our voices don’t matter.

But they do.

The last time I roped Connie into another public speaking event was in Missoula in September, sitting on a panel with Sen. Tester. Another woman on the panel remarked that she felt as though writing letters or sending emails to our delegation members didn’t matter, that her voice was too small to count. Sen. Tester jumped up and emphatically stated that every Montanans’ voice matters. Keep calling. Keep writing. We are listening.

As I hugged Connie goodbye that day I thanked her again for striding out of her comfort zone to advocate for the BCSA. With a wink and a laugh she responded, “That’s what mothers and grandmothers do best. Just keep showing up, even when we’re not wanted!”

Thank you Connie, for showing up. And thank you to all of the mamas out there, for showing up in big ways and little ways, every day. It matters.

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Becky Edwards is the director of the Mountain Mamas and lives in Bozeman with her husband and three daughters.