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Nine Wilderness Hero Hikes

Nine hikes as big as the hearts of their namesake wilderness visionaries.

Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Montana

Lee Metcalf was known to his friends as a shy, gentle, sensitive man. But to those who upset him, he was a man with a voice like the “bellowing of an enraged bull.” In 17 years as a U.S. senator from Montana, he used that voice many times against the myriad of abuses he saw on public land. Overgrazing, air pollution, dam-building, migratory bird protection, wilderness protection-nearly every environmental issue considered by Congress in the 1960s and ’70s had Metcalf’s stamp on it. But nowhere was his voice heard more loudly than on the issue of logging versus wilderness. “I do not subscribe to the oft-stated notion that somehow timber exploitation represents ‘multiple use’ management but wilderness does not,” he said. Two Montana wilderness bills, passed just after Metcalf died, established the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the Great Bear Wilderness, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. True to his legacy, Metcalf had worked hard on both bills right up until his death in 1978. Five years later four units of wilderness were combined and renamed the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in his honor.

On the trail: The four units in the Madison Range that make up the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area include some of the best hiking trails in Montana. One of particular note is the 26-mile loop hike through the 78,000-acre Spanish Peaks unit. The hike takes you along the South Fork of Spanish Creek, through the shadows of many 10,000-foot peaks, and within striking distance of a whole collection of high-country lakes, if you don’t mind going off trail. For a different experience, try the 7-mile jaunt through the Bear Trap Canyon unit, the nation’s first Bureau of Land Management wilderness. Don’t forget your fishing pole since the trail follows the Madison River, an internationally known trout stream.

Contact: Gallatin National Forest, Bozeman Ranger District, 3710 Fallon St., Suite C, Bozeman, MT 59718; (406) 587-6920.

Trail guide: Hiking Montana, by Bill Schneider. Falcon Press, P.O. Box 1718, Helena, MT 59624; (800) 582-2665; http://www.falconguide.com; $14.95.

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