The Big Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers twist westward between mountain ranges radiating from the spine of the continent. They wind through rich valleys amid vast public lands and family farms and ranches, often separated by no more than a strand of wire, and sometimes not even by that. Here, a responsible land ethic on both sides of the fence provides priceless benefits for all of us who live here—clean, cold water, habitat for diverse and abundant wildlife, and food on our tables.
Just south of Drummond, Sue and Randy Peterson have provided a shining example of just such a land ethic. The 3,700-acre Peterson Angus Ranch in the foothills of the John Long Mountains offers some of the healthiest native short grass prairie in the Upper Clark Fork watershed. In the summer of 2010 the Petersons protected their ranch with a conservation easement held by Five Valleys Land Trust.
Peterson Angus Ranch is a place where natural springs rise up through the grasses and rich soil to form Antelope Creek, home to native cutthroat trout, and life-giving cold, clean waters that feed the Clark Fork River. A hiking trail provides seasonal public access to the summit of Beacon Hill where visitors are able to look out over the ranch, the surrounding mountain ranges, and the confluence of Flint Creek and the Clark Fork, far below.
The easement was made possible by a generous contribution from the Petersons, funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and the Montana Natural Resource Damage Claim Program.
From atop Beacon Hill one can look south along the John Long Mountains to the jagged peaks of the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness. To the north, the eyes meet the rugged ridges of the Garnet Range, where the line of sight follows a prominent ridge leading away to form the Chamberlain Mountain complex at the northernmost prow of the range. Due to the foresight of the Peterson family the ability to take in this view will be protected for generations to come.
Directions to the Beacon Hill Trail: From Drummond, travel south on Highway 1 for 2.7 miles. Turn right (west) on Mullan Road and travel west for approximately 3.8 miles to a ranch gate on the left (south) side of the road. There is room to park just inside this gate. There are three interpretive signs at the parking area. A short distance up the trail, there is a sign low to the ground with a map with route directions. Note that the Beacon Hill “trail” is actually a route that includes sections of two-track ranch road and some cross-country sections.
The Petersons have generously provided public access to the Beacon Hill Trail across their private property. Please respect property boundaries, be mindful of livestock that may be in the area, leave gates as you found them, and be respectful of this beautiful, conserved place.
This past summer saw our Hands on the Land program complete many days of hard work and stewardship in the name of healthier open lands.
"Protect what you love means paying forward the honor of living on a ranch in Montana, not only for future generations, but also the flora and fauna that call this place home. The land is where people live and love and dream. Hopefully, someone else will have the opportunity to do the same."
New interpretive signs aim to educate the public about the area once called "Flint in the Ground."