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Story by BRETT FRENCH, photo by DAVID GRUBBS Of The Gazette Staff

As an aviator in the Navy, Chuck Anceny traveled around the world. He visited beautiful places in Austria and the Alps to snow ski. But no matter how far he traveled, he was always reminded of home.

“I’d say to my wife, ‘This reminds me a lot of the (Gallatin) canyon,’” he recalls. He said it so many times that she told him, “‘If you like it so much, go back.’”

So he did.

The Gallatin Canyon: A special reportSunday: Living the dream/Canyon no longer a logger’s paradise

Family works to preserve homestead/Protecting the upper Gallatin River

Monday: Big Sky Resort powers Gallatin Canyon economy

Tuesday: Working to play, playing to live.

Highway ‘scary at best’

Today: Some of the locals liked things better before the wealthy arrived.

Thursday: The Gallatin River is small, but plenty accommodating to anglers.

Friday: Gallatin Canyon’s whitewater beckons a variety of river runners.

Anceny’s wife died eight years ago. His children have all left. But the 86-year-old former ranch boy remains on 87 acres of forested land purchased by his father in the 1930s as a hunting camp. Media mogul Ted Turner owns the old Anceny family ranch down the valley, the Flying D, where bison now roam.

It is a ranch Anceny still recalls fondly, a place so large he never left its confines until he was 11 years old.

Anceny settled in the Gallatin Canyon year round in the 1960s. His house, complete with a wine cellar with a heavy door he hand carved, was built around the old hunting lodge.

Like the house, the canyon has changed and grown. New folks have moved in.

“I used to know everybody in the community, now I don’t know anybody,” Anceny says while sitting in a large cushioned window seat of his home that overlooks the Gallatin River.

In the early 1960s, the area was so quiet in winter, he says, that his wife would flag down passing truckers just to have someone new to talk with and to find out what was going on outside the isolated canyon.

“And there weren’t very many trucks going through here,” he says.

Back then, only about six people wintered in the canyon.

But with the development of Big Sky Resort in the early 1970s, the canyon began to lose its sense of community and its remote feeling, Anceny says. Winter crowds grew, attracted by the snow instead of being repelled by it. Last ski season, the resort logged a record number of 320,000 skier visits. As development has increased at the ski resort and surrounding properties, Anceny has become bitter about being locked out of hills he once roamed freely.

The changes have made him pessimistic about the future.

“It will get bigger and out of control,” Anceny says. “It’s a very fragile place. Water is a paucity in this area.”

He says he has no qualms about his ill feelings. “All (developers) want to do is build, build, build. They don’t want to preserve anything,” he says.

Asked what he would change about the area if he had the power, Anceny is quick to answer. “It’s too late. You can’t change. It’s gone. It’s over with.”

A sad smile spreads across his face, his deep blue eyes gaze downward.

“It’s not the open, free, friendly spirit we had in the past.”

Small businessman liked Gallatin Canyon better before wealthy arrived

By BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff

Customers at Fred Weschenfelder’s Castle Rock Inn are likely to get a side of smiles with their hamburger, no extra charge.

“We got a bargain on the boat today – $32.87,” he says pointing to a faded kayak leaning against a light pole outside. Weschenfelder cracks a gap-toothed smile.

When asked how long he’s lived in the Gallatin Canyon he says, “Forever. When I came here the mountains were very small.”

But when questioned about how the canyon has changed over the past 30-plus years, Weschenfelder doesn’t joke around. He’s blunt, but still keeps on smiling.

“The Holiday Inns have eaten about everyone else up,” he says.

He’s also not fond of Big Sky Resort and the changes its growth has brought to the canyon.

 
  DAVID GRUBBS/Gazette Staff
  Fred Weschenfelder bought the Castle Rock Inn in 1967. The cafÈ and cabins along the Gallatin River near the mouth of the canyon still have the feel of the 1960s. Weschenfelder has held out despite lucrative offers to buy his small piece of the canyon.
“You had a lot of status-climbing people come in when Big Sky started, but now it’s a lot better.” Things have settled down a bit.

He would kick Ted Turner out of his cafÈ if the media mogul, who bought the neighboring Flying D Ranch, pulled up a green vinyl-covered chair at the counter. And he’s no friend of the environmental movement either. He doesn’t like more rules that take away his rights.

“They always get out of hand,” he says of environmental groups, “and then they aren’t your friends anymore.”

Weschenfelder, 63, owns the small cafÈ, six brown vacation cabins and a home along the Gallatin River. His business caters to family vacationers and anglers, the kind of people that used to load up a station wagon and head West. The small settlement squashed on a narrow piece of land between the river and Highway 191 still has the feel of the 1960s. But the food in the small store reflects how times have changed. In the cooler are microbrew beers like Moose Drool and Headstrong Ale. Campers can pick up marshmallows or Grey Poupon balsamic vinegar to replenish their supplies.

Weschenfelder moved to the canyon from Billings, where he worked as a diesel mechanic. He and his former wife used every penny they owned to buy the Castle Rock Inn in 1967. They paid it off in seven years.

“At that time, the people were normal people,” he says while sitting in front of his cafÈ in the shadow of towering cliffs across the river.

“When I first moved up here, people coming in were Montanans who built little places up here. Now they’ve all been bought out,” Weschenfelder says.

Over his 34 years as a year-round resident, he has seen many changes come to the narrow canyon and been offered a lot of change for his small place overlooking the rushing river.

Money means nothing to the people who have asked him to name his price for the three-acre parcel of land, he says.

“The place is worth 15 times as much for the river frontage as it is for the business.”

But so far he has shrugged off attempts to buy the place, despite the difficulty he has finding help to run the cafÈ and cabins. He can’t bring himself to sell to someone who will just bulldoze the log cabins and store to build a second or third trophy home.

“I feel a little bit like a traitor to sell out,” he says. “There’s not too many places like this that have survived.”

All the change makes him a bit nostalgic for the old days, but he’s also accepted the fact that nothing stays the same.

And despite all the changes, Weschenfelder says, “Actually, the canyon is in pretty darn good shape. The people have done a fairly good job of keeping it pristine.”

Although the winters keep getting colder and the summer season shorter, Weschenfelder says he’d like to stick it out a couple more years. Eventually, he fears the canyon will be eaten up by the rich, maybe one reason he’s holding out.

“I’m concerned, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” he says and smiles.

Fred Weschenfelder rents cabins, an apartment and recreational vehicle spaces at his Castle Rock Inn. For more information phone (406) 763-4243.

Brett French can be reached at 657-1387, or at french@billingsgazette.com

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