- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - For his AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer service, Forrest Theisen may have scored one of the best gigs available - driving around rural southeastern Montana while hiking, taking photos and eating at local cafes.

For a Minnesota native who went to college in Wisconsin, the change in scenery was pretty stark.

“I think it can be an acquired taste, and it’s definitely a taste that I acquired,” he said.

Theisen traveled the backroads and buttes to gather information for a newly printed geotourism map. Titled “Buttes, Breaks, and Badlands: Off the Beaten Path in Southeast Montana,” the map is modeled after National Geographic maps that impart a variety of information to travelers - everything from annual events (Dino Shindig in Ekalaka), to suggestions on getting around (make sure you have a spare tire, cash and half a tank of gas).

“We really wanted to get places that are not as well-known because those other places are already highlighted,” said Mark Good of the Montana Wilderness Association.

Good was instrumental in developing a similar map focusing on the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area. It was the cooperative creation of that map that fostered the idea for taking the same idea to a larger scale, he said.

“The thinking was: Why don’t we do this for a bigger area?” Good said.

So MWA partnered with several other groups to create a steering committee to guide the map’s content. Photos highlight the area’s diverse scenery while short sentences suggest places to camp, drive or grab a cup of coffee. On the back, the map zeroes in on the specific regions with further suggestions on places to visit, like Diamond Butte Lookout in the Ashland Ranger District.

“One of the main purposes of the map is to promote tourism in southeast Montana and thereby help recharge the economy in the small communities across this part of the state,” said Ted Brewer, MWA communications manager, in an email. “We’re also hoping the map gets people out on the landscapes we think are worth protecting.”

For Good, his favorite places on the map include the Chalk Buttes near Ekalaka and the Tongue River Valley. Theisen was enamored with the Chalk Buttes, as well, along with the Pryor Mountains, Bighorn Canyon and Terry Badlands. The Terry Badlands were even more exciting to explore once Theisen saw the black and white photos taken by pioneer Evelyn Cameron, which are housed in the Terry museum.

“Seeing photos of her on those natural bridges and then going out there was a cool experience,” he said.

Southeastern Montana’s landscape was a far cry from the land of 10,000 lakes, where Theisen had grown up next dense forests. But he thrived on Montana’s wide views, lack of crowds and enjoyed visiting with locals as well as checking out the unique museums tucked away in the dusty corners of small towns. Geotourists, he pointed out, are interested in immersing themselves in the local lore, stay longer and spend more. Those are the people the mapmakers hope to encourage to visit southeast Montana.

“Running a business in southeast Montana isn’t easy,” the map quoted Shawn Wahl, of Powder River Taxidermy in Broadus. “We struggle to stay afloat, but are constantly adapting. In the end it’s always worth it to live in a land you love with the people you love.”

For the first printing run 5,000 of the maps were created. The MWA is in the process of distributing them to local chambers of commerce, or the map can be viewed online or ordered for $5 at wildmontana.org.

Funding for the map came from the Bureau of Land Management, Southeast Montana Tourism, Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Dawson County Tourism Business Improvement District, National Park Service, Cinnabar Foundation, Miles City Business Improvement District and First Interstate Bank of Miles City.

“We invite you to slow down, stretch your legs and your horizons, and explore our part of the state,” the map implores.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com


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