The Madison Buffalo Jump near Three Forks will remain a state park, aided in part by a grant from the Lee and Donna Metcalf Charitable Foundation.
The future of the park was uncertain after Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks was asked to pay $4,272 this year to lease the land from the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The DNRC owns 617 acres of the 638-acre park, with FWP owning the remaining acreage. It was only recently that they realized FWP was supposed to provide annual compensation to DNRC, which is tasked with managing its lands to create funds for the state school trust.
Public comments during the past month overwhelmingly supported paying the fee and retaining the park, with dozens of people offering to form some type of “friends of the park” group to raise funds. The Metcalf foundation also donated the first year’s fee, as well as an $18,000 matching grant that’s good through June 2016.
“That was a real surprise for us,” said Chas Van Genderen, the Parks Division director. “This foundation’s generosity is a great opportunity.”
The buffalo jump is listed on the National Historic Register and is located on the east side of the Madison River Valley near Logan, about seven miles south of Interstate 90. For about 2,000 years, hunters on foot, often disguised in hides, hazed bison over an 85-foot cliff, where they fell down the slope to their deaths. Historic butchering areas and campsites still sit below the cliffs.
An interpretive display helps visitors understand the events that took place there and the site is open to the public year-round, with an FWP employee managing the park along with two others that are nearby.
The commission had considered turning the park over to DNRC instead of paying the annual fee, but after 232 comments were received, only three people were in support of that. Many feared that DNRC, which is mandated to get top dollar for its leases for the school trust, would allow livestock grazing and damage the artifacts.
“I think the department and Parks did a good job listening to the public,” said Commissioner Dan Vermillion, moments before voting 4-0 to support retain the state park. “People like knowing its there, even if they don’t spend a lot of time there. Hopefully the discussion brought this into focus so we get some assistance with this.”
Van Genderen said they’ll put together a meeting within the next 30 days with parties interested in the future of the Madison Buffalo Jump, since part of the foundation donation involves matching grants.
He noted that this is one of four state parks FWP manages that involve some DNRC property. The others are Big Arm, Thompson Falls and the Lewis and Clark Caverns state parks, and lease fees in those areas probably will be the topic of future discussions.
Commissioner Ron Moody noted that taxpayers support national park systems, and that perhaps some general fund dollars could be used for state parks.
“This is stop-gap funding of this state park,” Moody said. “If people want to keep these state parks then people need to come forward with their financial support, however that may happen.”