It’s fitting that a new trail providing access to a section of state land and two lakes along the base of the Beartooth Mountains will be dedicated on the eve of the Fourth of July, said Ron Nusbaum.
“It truly is an American project,” said the member of the Beartooth Back Country Horsemen about a project that was first conceived in the 1990s.
Nusbaum was one of several individuals who pitched in to ensure the trail was built across a small parcel of Bureau of Land Management property. But he’s more than willing to share the credit with other folks in a variety of state and federal agencies as well as with volunteers.
“That list is longer than my arm,” he said. “I spent 30 years in the federal government and never, never have I seen federal, state and private groups come together like this.”
“The groups just didn’t drop it,” said Jim Sparks, director of the BLM’s Billings Field Office, who helped push the work forward.
On July 3 at 11 a.m., some of those people will gather atop a crest of the mile-long trail to dedicate it in the memory of Ernie Strum, a longtime Red Lodge resident, well-known outdoorsman and member of the Beartooth Back Country Horsemen who was also instrumental in seeing the trail built. Strum died in December at age 82.
“Ernie’s main forte was that so many folks thought they owed him a favor,” said John Simmons, a fellow horseman from Absarokee. “And I believe many did. He was involved with everything that benefited the Red Lodge and Carbon County community. At his funeral were several testaments about all the good he did for all the organizations.”
His wife, Marge Strum, said she thinks her husband would be happy that the trail was finally finished. She will attend the dedication with her two sons, daughter and a few grandchildren.
“I’m sure he’d really appreciate it,” she said. “I think it’s a very good way for the public to get into a very nice place. It’s not real long and not difficult, and it’s accessible when things in the mountains are still snowed in.
“There’s lots for everyone there, whether you’re a fisherman or a hiker, it’s just a new place to go.”
Jim Olsen, a fisheries biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was one of the first people to push the trail’s construction to the BLM when he lived in Absarokee. Now living in Butte, he was excited that the trail had finally come to fruition.
He recalled taking his Boy Scout troop into the area one April and getting turned around in the snow and then the dark, finally arriving at Lily Pad Lake at about midnight.
“It will be nice to have a trail so people won’t get lost anymore,” he said and laughed.
According to Simmons, the trail project first took root in 1999 as the Beartooth Back Country Horsemen worked on a nearby trail project to Island Lake, southwest of Dean. The group suggested to a now-retired Beartooth Ranger District official that a route that continued on from Island Lake to the West Rosebud would be a good idea.
“The far out vision comes from (Malcom) Mackay’s book about the old hunting trails that he used to get from his (Lazy E-L) ranch to Red Lodge,” Nusbaum said. Mackay’s book, “Cow Range and Hunting Trail,” was first published in 1925.
Whether that connection is still possible, Nusbaum is unsure, but he remains hopeful. And why shouldn’t he, at several points over the intervening years it seemed like the Ernie Strum Trail would whither.
“I’m happy that these groups have taken the bull by the horns and fought to get this through,” Marge Strum said. Too often such projects fall along the wayside, she added.
Because of all of the cooperation that helped build the trail, the route has been nominated for a Back Country Horsemen national award.
“If we get that, that’s a feather in the cap of anyone who has touched the program,” Nusbaum said. “So we’re all hopeful that we’ll win.
“It’s definitely a feel-good project.”