Our Montana began as the Montana State Parks Association over 20 years ago as a nonprofit organization of citizens to advocate in support of Montana’s state parks which were in need of upgrade, maintenance, expansion and promotion. Those needs continue today.
By 2001 this initial organization had evolved into Our Montana, Inc., a broader initiative designed to work collaboratively with other groups in preserving the historical, archaeological, scientific and recreational resources of Montana’s Parks, Rivers, Historic Sites and Trails.
Our Montana is celebrating it’s 20 years devoted to State Parks and State Parks is celebrating their 75th in helping preserve Montana for now and future generations.
A Brief History of Montana State Parks
Influenced by President Teddy Roosevelt’s new conservation movement, the idea of a state park system in Montana began as early as the 1920s. This concept stayed alive through the 20s, but it wasn’t until the Depression and the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which put scores of people back to work in nation’s forests and parks, that the state park movement was revitalized. The CCC built facilities at Lewis & Clark Caverns, which became Montana’s first state park in 1936.
In 1939, the Montana State Parks System became a reality when the legislature passed the first comprehensive state parks legislation creating a three member State Park Commission. The commission was appointed by the governor with broad powers to “conserve the scenic, historic, archaeological, scientific and recreational resources of the state.” Yellow Bay, Lone Pine, and Missouri Headwaters State Parks were acquired during this time. The commission took on a lot of responsibility and new projects, but without the funds to support that ambitious development, it dissolved in the early 1950s.
State Parks were then transferred to the State Highway Commission. There, under the new State Parks Division, the park system continued to grow; adding 19 new parks, including some of the state’s most outstanding attractions: Bannack, Makoshika, Medicine Rocks, and sites at Flathead Lake. By 1965, State Parks had been transferred to Fish and Game along with a mandate to conserve and provide recreational and cultural resources. More state parks and funding sources were added in the coming years. In 1978, the agency name was officially changed to Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Over 75 years, Montana’s state parks system has grown to more than 50 state parks which provide natural, cultural and water-based recreational opportunities to over 2 million visitors each year.