A new website made by the University of Montana’s Wilderness Institute makes it easier for backcountry visitors to plan backpacking, rafting and hiking trips.
Wilderness.net provides interactive maps of all the federally designated wilderness areas in Montana, including the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Selway-Bitterroot, according to a release from the university. The maps also cover the rest of the United States, for anyone traveling outside the state.
There are descriptions, photos and laws about each specific wilderness, along with plenty of maps.
“We’ve reorganized and simplified our resources for recreationists,” Lisa Ronald, communications director for the Wilderness Institute, said.
Users can start searching for recreation opportunities at several different points, by searching the name of a specific wilderness, looking at the map for the closest wilderness to their home, or searching by a state they may be visiting.
“Oftentimes people want a personalized recommendation,” Ronald said. “So, we offer the contact information to contact the office in the area to talk to a ranger.”
Recreationists can also view various regulations and guidelines for the specific wilderness they plan on visiting, to be prepared for bears, moose or whatever species may be of concern in the area.
Wilderness.net also has tools for land managers, with searchable databases that cover legal and scientific issues, along with climate change, fire and using tools on federal lands.
Wilderness areas can be searched by the bureau that oversees it as well, including the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and the National Park Service.
The Wilderness Institute is headquartered in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation on the UM campus. According to the release, the institute manages the only online library that covers federal wilderness areas in this detail.
The college of Forestry has managed the library since 1996, Ronald said, and last updated the website around 2010.
Around 475,000 people use the tool every year, according to the release.
The site is managed by one professional staff member, along with a group of three to five students from the schools of forestry, journalism and computer science, who work on developing, writing and posting to social media in support of the Institute.
“It can take a little longer, but it provides a really unique opportunity,” Ronald said.