Agency Looking Into State Park Expansion

By Beacon Staff

ULM – Montana park officials are looking at ways to permanently enlarge First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, where Plains Indians harvested bison hundreds of years ago by stampeding them over a cliff.

For the past eight years or so, park advocates in the All Nations Pishkun Association have been leasing land from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, with hope the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks would acquire the lease eventually. About 1,200 acres are leased for about $5,000 a year, said state Sen. Brad Hamlett, one of the lessees.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks now intends to take over the leasing for a year while searching for ways to work out a land swap that would permanently add leased property to the park, which encompasses 1,841 acres 10 miles southwest of Great Falls. Although Hamlett said Monday that 1,200 acres are involved, an information sheet given to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission early this month refers to 920 acres.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks will look at its lands that could be transferred to DNRC in return for property next to First Peoples.

“The reason that’s possible is that we have a class of lands called unaffiliated lands, a hodgepodge of property that we don’t manage as anything official, such as a fishing-access site, a park, a wildlife management area,” said Joe Maurier, acting director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Parks administrator Chas Van Genderen said he’s still gathering financial information about the lease to determine precisely how much Fish, Wildlife and Parks must pay DNRC.

Concerns of the lessees have included protecting the views from First Peoples, where the buffalo jump, or “pishkun” in the language of the Blackfeet Tribe, is a mile long. Equipment storage or other incompatible uses of the land might have occurred had it not been under conservation-oriented management, Hamlett said. Presently, part of the land is used for horses.

The park near the small community of Ulm previously was known as Ulm Pishkun, and was renamed First Peoples Buffalo Jump in 2007. Officials said at the time that the new name was more descriptive.

Maurier said adding the land would give the park more of the buffalo jump and “drive lines” over which buffalo were moved. The addition also might accommodate camping, he said.

Designated in 1972, the park offers panoramic views of the Rocky Mountain Front and supports a variety of wildlife.

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