The Changing Landscape Historical Marker

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Lolo ,Southwest Montana

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Historical Markers/Interpretive SignHistoric Sites
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General info

The Lewis and Clark and the Nez Perce National Historic trails collectively referred to as the Lolo Trail, follow the ridges north of U.S. Highway 12. The landscape you see along Lolo Creek has changed in many ways since this land was the aboriginal territory of the Nez Perce and Salish people. They viewed the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a business venture into a very old cultural landscape—the territory of sovereign nations with richly developed cultures. The people who followed Lewis and Clark practiced a more visually evident style of land management than did the American Indians. American Indians utilized resources made available by natural events. Today, on the other hand, we often create disturbances to make resources available. The look of the landscape along Lolo Creek reflects that style.

Land ownership had a different meaning for the American Indians who had been here for centuries. Since that time, these lands have been claimed and managed in a variety of ways. Most of the bottomland east of here along lower Lolo Creek is owned by small private landowners. The upper reaches of Lolo Creek near Lolo Hot Springs and visible from Highway 12 are a “checkerboard” of National Forest and private timber company lands.

This “checkerboard” ownership pattern began in 1908 when the U.S. Government granted the Northern Pacific Railroad alternate sections of land along their proposed railroad route. This was our nation’s second attempt to build a railroad across these mountains. But the 1854 assessment of Lt. John Mullan during the first attempt to build a railroad here proved correct when he wrote:

“It is thoroughly and utterly impractical for a railroad rout…an immense bed of rugged pinnacles and difficult mountains that can never be converted to any purpose for the use of man…I have never met with a more ininviting and rugged set of mountains.”

Though the railroad was never completed, the checkerboard ownership pattern still remains. Railroads, fire management, windstorms, timber management practices, subdivisions, and road construction all affect the way this land looks today.

On December 4, 1995, a huge windstorm blew down millions of board feet of timber across thousands of acres along Lolo Creek. That wind event played a big role in how the forest looks today. Some of the blown-down timber left on the hillsides and some of the timber from this natural disturbance was utilized for lumber. Look closely as you travel along Highway 2 and you can see where the trees were blown over and are pointing in the same direction.

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