Two Bozeman nonprofit groups have raised enough money to exercise their option to buy Bohart Ranch Cross-Country Ski Center in the Bridger Canyon and are taking aim at a much larger target.

Three years ago the Bridger Biathlon Club announced plans to buy the 276-acre Bohart facility as well as the adjoining 259-acre Crosscut Ranch, a failed 1980s real estate development that abuts Bridger Bowl Ski Area, about 20 minutes from downtown. The club just needed to raise $7 million for the land. To that end, it formed the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center last year to act as an umbrella organization for a bigger idea.

“The good news is we have had a great response to our fundraising efforts,” said Stuart Jennings, a biathlon club and sports center board member. “The bad news is we don’t have all of the money in hand.”

More needed

The nonprofits have 90 days to close on Bohart Ranch, which has been owned and operated by Jean MacInnes and her son, Chris Myers, since 1988. The deadline to close on the option to buy Crosscut Ranch is November.

The donations and pledge commitments so far total about half of the amount needed to acquire both properties, said Eric Love, a board member for the center and biathlon club, whose day job is raising money for a national conservation group’s land acquisitions.

“We’re working mightily to acquire the other half,” he said. “We’re getting started and this is good news, but it’s a long way to the finish line. We’ll take contributions big and small.”

The center

At first, board members thought an additional $3 million, on top of the land acquisition fee, would be enough to build a lodge. After consulting with architects, and with an eye to establishing a facility that would be among the best in the region and nation, that price has now been increased to $8 million.

Looking at the big picture, the Bozeman groups want to connect Bohart and Crosscut’s trail systems with Bridger Bowl’s downhill and snowboarding facilities to make “a year-round recreation, sports training and educational facility that provides access to the mountains for human-powered outdoor activities,” according to the Crosscut website.

In addition, the facility could include an outdoor arena for spectators to watch Nordic races like those seen in the Winter Olympics; 30 target-shooting stations for biathletes; a lodge providing dining, bathroom and warming facilities; a possible home for Montana State University Nordic and downhill racers; snowshoe and ski rental shops; and summer trails for skiers, hikers and winter and summer mountain bikers.

“We aspire to be a 12-month operation,” Jennings said.

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Lowell Bailey

Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, N.Y., has signed on to help guide the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center in the Bridger Mountains outside Bozeman.

New hire

Last year the board took another bold step and hired biathlete Lowell Bailey, of Lake Placid, New York, as executive director to guide the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center’s vision.

“We gave him the job to make this the best Nordic center in the U.S.,” Jennings said.

“Our vision is for Crosscut to carry on the incredible legacy that Jean McInnes (Bohart's current owner/operator) and so many others have fostered for many years in Bridger Canyon,” Bailey wrote in an email from Europe where he’s still competing. “Bridger Bowl, Bohart Ranch and Crosscut Ranch represent three local gems, together forming a unique place where the public has access to some of the most pristine natural landscapes in the country.”

Keeping the areas in the nonprofit groups’ hands carries the added benefit of no housing developments in a canyon that provides drinking water for Bozeman, as well as wildlife habitat for elk, moose and deer.

“Every day, Bridger Canyon is under more and more development pressure as Bozeman's population grows,” Bailey said. “Just recently, Crosscut Ranch nearly fell victim to such pressure as developers purchased and attempted to construct hundreds of condo units on that property. We believe that Bohart and Crosscut should remain a public asset.”

In February Bailey’s status as a spokesman for the development took a huge jump when he became the first U.S. biathlete ever to claim a world title. Bailey, 35, won the 20-kilometer individual race by shooting a perfect 20 for 20 while competing in Austria. The win qualifies him for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“I love it when that happens,” Love said.

Looking ahead

The newly proposed facilities are a bold step for a biathlon program that withered in the 1990s before going dormant for about 20 years. But with some well-meaning parents of budding biathletes, a strong volunteer team that includes Bozeman-born Kari Swenson — a 1984 bronze medal relay team winner in the first women’s Biathlon World Championships — and the assistance of America’s top biathlete, things are looking up.

“I think we’re going to end up with something remarkable,” Jennings said. “We will train the next generation of Olympic athletes and MSU athletes.”

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.