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No, I'm afraid you won't find "Big Ed" Smith's name on the ballot when you head to the polls for Election Day. The tall farmer from Dagmar told me his days of running for office are over.

Despite many, many years of being politically active, Smith won't be making another run for governor, the Legislature, the county commission or any other office. He won't be back on any state commissions or boards, either. Not now, he said. Not in the future. He's happy at home on the family farm.

But it was good to talk with him on the phone recently, as he laughed at my prodding him to leap back into a governor's race. Then, he took me to task over a recent newspaper column mentioning Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' Block Management Program.

In that column, I stated that the Block Management Program officially started in 1985 in FWP's Region 7. But Smith told me that the program really started in his own home country of northeastern Montana earlier than that.

Back in 1983, then-Fish, Wildlife and Parks director Jim Flynn and then-commission chairman Spence Hegstad signed off on the official creation of the Medicine Lake Sandhills Special Management Area. It was discussed, Smith said, during Senate Fish and Game Committee hearings in the 1983 Legislature during his tenure on the committee.

And dating all the way back in 1977, according to Ron Selden, information officer for FWP in Glasgow, the Sandhills began as a walk-in area and was the first of its type in the state. It started with 14 landowners, Selden said, and currently has 15 involved.

As to whether it officially started Block Management or predated the program and was a great idea all its own hopefully will make for some interesting discussion over a cup of coffee between Smith and me in the future and will involve word play over the terms "block management" and "special management area."

But, the bottom line is that it was a great idea, ramrodded and nurtured by Smith from the beginning, and it has been an ongoing success story ever since. It has provided access for countless hunters - resident and nonresident alike. It has also been a big boost for the area economically by providing a place for hunters to hunt while benefiting motels and restaurants and grocery stores and local watering holes with hunter dollars in the process.

Today, it's listed as "No. 82 - Sandhills Block Management Area" in FWP's Region 6 Block Management booklet. It still offers good hunting for white-tailed deer, upland birds and waterfowl. It includes 20,000 acres of private land plus state land and abuts the Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Medicine Lake Wilderness.

The area is managed with Block Management sign-in boxes for hunters and remains a walk-in area. For more information on the Sandhills area or other Block Management in FWP's Region 6, contact Michael "Mikey" Nye at the Glasgow FWP office at (406) 228-3708.

And, remember to vote on Tuesday, even if Big Ed isn't on the ballot.

New road, recreation atlas

A hunter, hiker or fisherman's best friend is definitely a good map. But when you're looking at a state the size of Montana, it becomes a bit daunting as to where to start in finding your recreation and how to get there when you do find it.

Benchmark Maps has solved that problem with its release of the Montana Road and Recreation Atlas, a 128-page, road-atlas-size paperback that covers the state from Alzada to Yaak.

Bridger DeVille, at Benchmark, noted the state's size and said that it took two years of research and 40,000-plus miles of driving to field check the map's details. In checking the book out with areas I'm familiar with, it appears to be extremely accurate.

The book has 96 pages of landscape maps covering all portions of the state and Yellowstone National Park. There is also a 13-page recreation guide with information on historic sites, camping areas, boating and fishing areas, forests, wildlife areas, RV sites and other places of interest across the state.

Benchmark's Montana Road and Recreation Atlas is the 11th in its state editions, joining Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho among its offerings. The state books sell for $22.95 and are available from many local bookstores, outdoor stores and map outlets.

You can also order them through Benchmark's Web site at http://benchmarkmaps.com or by calling 800-237-0798. And if you don't need it right now, it's just the type of book that would look awfully nice under your favorite outdoor person's Christmas tree.

Contact Gazette outdoor editor Mark Henckel at henckel@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1395.

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