TERRY — Rancher Lance Kalfell admitted that at first, the idea of collaborating with a wilderness group was a little unsettling.
“When you’re a rancher, that sends shivers down your spine,” he said. “I was pretty hesitant.”
So he got online and researched the Montana Wilderness Association.
“They weren’t the bad guys, and it looked like they were trying to make an effort to work with ranchers. So I took the step,” he said.
The step was the joint publication of a new brochure touting the amenities of the Terry Badlands. The brochure also includes a map of the 44,000-acre wilderness study area north and west of the Eastern Montana town, along with GPS points leading to some of the attractions — natural stone bridges, hoodoos and vast scenic views.
“The bigger thing, for us anyway, is looking at prairie landscapes and the value of these areas to communities,” said Mark Good, of MWA’s Great Falls office.
Although the mention of wilderness typically conjures up images of high mountains, pine forests and clear lakes, MWA also sees value in places like the Terry Badlands and wants to promote them. For the past 10 years, MWA has led hikes into the badlands and other areas in Eastern Montana to publicize the unique wildlands. The brochure/map is just another way to send the message, Good said.
Kalfell, who is virtually a one-man economic development agency for Prairie County, doesn’t claim to know the first thing about wilderness, badlands or who might pull off Interstate 94 to explore the area. But he’s confident the Terry Badlands can intrigue modern explorers.
“If you have a family and like to hike or bird watch, Terry’s the place to be,” he said.
Kalfell doesn’t think the “badlands” name is a deterrent or that it scares people off.
“Some people want to get back and do the rugged stuff,” he said, including extreme sports like trail running. “Maybe if it’s the badlands it will bring people out to see how tough it is. There are people in the world who like that stuff.”
Terry has other amenities, too, Kalfell pointed out. The town has a collection of famed prairie photographer Evelyn Cameron’s prints from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Yellowstone River is well-known in the area for its large agates.
For now, hunters who visit in the fall are the main tourists, Kalfell said.
“But the badlands have never been promoted, so not many people come for this,” he said. “The idea is to get them to stay in the area for a couple of days.”
Longtime badlands explorer Eddie Gaub, 82, of Terry, likes the idea of the new promotional brochure. Highlighting how little is known about the area, Gaub lived practically next door to the landscape for 60 years before he realized what he was missing.
“Nobody ever mentioned it,” he said.
Now, his Ford Bronco’s license plate reads “Calypso.” Calypso Trail is the name of the main road into the heart of the badlands. The walls of his Terry office are lined with enlarged color prints of the badlands and in filing cabinets he keeps photo albums filled with pictures from his hikes. Every first Saturday in June, he makes a pilgrimage to the wilderness study area to collect more photographs of the fleeting bloom of the prairie wildflowers.
“It’s sure a nice place to go,” he said.
Gaub would like to see the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the WSA, install a couple of roadside pullouts with picnic tables. But he acknowledges it can be a treacherous place — he always takes two vehicles in case one gets broken down or stuck in the area’s infamous gumbo mud.
“I always have a rule that if you go out there, you have two outfits,” he said.
It’s definitely not an all-weather road, Kalfell agreed.
Good and Kalfell took a hike up Sheridan Butte, on the southwestern edge of the wilderness study area, last week. The climb was slippery in spots, thanks to recently melted snow. In places, the cracked soils looked as scaly, dry and inhospitable as lizard skin. Yet in the flooded lowlands, frogs croaked in a raucous spring mating chorus. Kalfell said some of the sites, like the natural stone bridges, reminded him of something out of “Flintstones” cartoons.
“The thing that’s most fascinating to me is you walk a little way and the view changes,” he said. “Nothing looks the same after you walk 100 yards. And it’s just so peaceful.”
From Sheridan Butte, the hikers could look back into the Yellowstone River valley and see where the Powder River joined to the south. To the north, the erosion-carved sandstone and clays of the badlands rose like waves to the bright blue horizon, highlighted by bands of gray, tan and red soils and rock.
Good said the appeal of the Terry Badlands to him is the ability to travel anywhere across the landscape.
“That, to me, is the attraction of this place,” he said. “You can just park and explore.
“I don’t think you have to be in great shape,” he added. “You can walk up to the top of any butte and get a great view.”