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Bruce Mihelish and Martha Lindsey with the Travelers’ Rest Heritage and Preservation Association, look forward to the day when Travelers’ Rest State Park owns its visitor center and museum and the land it sits on.

MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

LOLO – “Montana’s first campsite.”

It has a ring to it, and the new tag line for Travelers’ Rest State Park – hatched with the help of its new fiscal sponsor – is designed to spark renewed interest in the unique historic grounds along Lolo Creek.

Travelers’ Rest was long a crossroads for native travelers, and Lewis and Clark camped here on their way both to and from the Pacific Ocean in 1805 and 1806. But its location outside of Missoula proper doesn’t tend to grab and hold people’s attention.

“It’s no secret we’re kind of out here in the boonies and a lot of people aren’t aware of us,” said Bruce Mihelish, president of the Travelers’ Rest Heritage and Preservation Association. “Our biggest goal is to build more awareness of the park, and turn that into much needed funds to acquire this property.”

One last piece of funding must click into place before Travelers’ Rest State Park owns outright its visitor center/museum and the land that surrounds it.

Owners Bill and Ramona Holt, longtime neighbors and supporters of the park, have been leasing the building and some 24 acres to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks while $700,000 is raised to purchase them. A preliminary appraisal of the property placed the value at nearly three times that amount. The additional acreage will expand Travelers’ Rest, a National Historic Landmark, to 65 acres.

Most of the $700,000 is either in hand or committed already. There’s $300,000 from the state via FWP’s Montana Parks, Land and Water Conservation Fund, and up to another $300,000 from Missoula County through its share of an open space bond passed six years ago.

The remaining $100,000 was left to park supporters and the community to raise, and Mihelish said several large contributions were quickly forthcoming. They included $10,000 from Five Valleys Land Trust and the same amount from two separate private donors.

The nonprofit Missoula Community Foundation recently stepped in to help with the rest. The foundation bills itself as “a philanthropic hub or clearinghouse that brings together donors, causes and nonprofits in positive and innovative partnerships.”

“Our mission is to provide leadership and promote long-term local philanthropy to ensure the present and future vitality of the greater Missoula community,” executive director Meredith Printz said. “Before we decide to take on a project, we ask whether it would further our mission.”

The Travelers’ Rest campaign fits the mission perfectly, she said.

“We are helping to promote local philanthropy to protect and expand a gem of the Lolo community. Not only is Travelers’ Rest a National Historic Landmark attracting many out-of-state visitors every year, it is also a community gathering space where Lolo residents can have a picnic, stroll on the walking paths and wet a line in Lolo Creek,” said Printz.

The Missoula Community Foundation will provide the “accepting” process for donations, send out the thank-you notes and formulate the financial reports. That will leave TRPHA, also a nonprofit, to focus its efforts on providing programming and promoting the park through outreach, advocacy and public education.

Mihelish said if all goes well, the $100,000 or more will be raised by the end of summer.

To help market the fundraising campaign, TRPHA and the Missoula Community Foundation have come up with a slogan: “Discover, Experience and Give.”

And they’ve developed the tag of “Montana’s First Campsite.”

“It means a lot of things,” Mihelish said. “One thing it means is this is the very first archaeologically verified Lewis and Clark campsite. But maybe more importantly it’s a primitive campsite that goes back over 10,000 years. We can kind of use this tag as another way to convey the same thing.”

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

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