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To help complete the Continental Divide Trail, CDT-Montana is building on five decades of grassroots volunteer work and successful collaborations.


arrow Learn about Continental Divide Trail volunteer opportunities provided by the Montana Wilderness Association in Montana and Idaho:


Montana group steps up to continue Continental Divide Trail work

By John Gatchell and Shannon Freix, Montana Wilderness Association


As a geographical feature, the Continental Divide follows the crown of the Rockies dividing the flow of water between the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean.

photo of bare slopoe and high mountains

Volunteers taking a break and enjoying the view on the Continental Divide
Trail in the Scapegoat Wilderness

Rain or snow that drains on the east side of the Continental Divide flows toward the Atlantic Ocean while precipitation falling on the west side flows to the Pacific Ocean. This is where east and west meet; where rivers arise; where you can still walk in the track of a grizzly or lose yourself in mountains without end.

More than geography, however, the Great Divide has been witness to our nation’s tribal heritage, pioneering history and western culture that is still alive today in the Rocky Mountains.

High on the Divide there is a trail, aptly named the Continental Divide Trail, which stretches for 3100 miles from Canada to Mexico. Hiking this route is a truly epic experience, but even spending a weekend on the CDT is unique and special.

The Continental Divide Trail links five states, 26 national forests, 20 wilderness areas, three national parks, eight BLM areas, and a national monument along the spine of the Rockies. There’s no question that the CDT showcases some of the most majestic, rugged mountain ranges in America.

photo of young people with rocks and logs

Turnpike work involves raising the trail tread to hold rocks and then
gravel, so that water seeps below keeping the trail dry and safe.

Designated in 1978, the CDT is the youngest, longest and wildest of three well-known long distance trails including the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails. The tri-fecta is informally known as the “Triple Crown” when a hiker travels all three trails. Unlike the AT and PCT, however, the CDT is not complete. As a whole, the completion status sits at roughly 78% and, when comparing all five CDT states (New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana), the northern section through the latter two states is only 58% complete.

But there are big dreams and strong efforts to improve upon these numbers.

In 1995, the Colorado-based Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA) was formed to be the nonprofit partner to the CDT. But, sadly, CDTA was forced to close its doors in January 2012 as it was unable to meet financial obligations.

Rather than seeing this as a failure, the Montana Wilderness Association saw this as an opportunity! MWA stepped up to pick up the slack on the CDT up north. After scrambling to pursue grants and funding, a summer project schedule was in place with nearly a dozen volunteer opportunities from Glacier to Yellowstone National Park.

photo of people with pack horses

Backcountry Horsemen of Montana are great partners and supporters
of the TRAIL work. EQUESTRIANS often volunteer to bring gear and camp
supplies 3-15 miles into the woods for backcountry projects.

CDT-Montana is not reinventing the wheel, but building on five decades of grassroots volunteer work and successful collaborations in this area. And, even better, there is a stronger local focus to help complete the least connected section of trail along the CDT.

Long-time partners on the CDT, like the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, Backcountry Horsemen of Montana and the Glacier National Park Fund, are still working closely with CDT Montana efforts.

“People across Montana and Idaho have really stepped up” says Shannon Freix, CDT-Montana Program Manager. “We’re proud of Montana’s wild beauty and so lucky to be working with individuals and groups that want to work together.”

Meg Killen, CDT Field Coordinator, works primarily in the field with the volunteers. “It’s a vote of confidence to see returning volunteers; people that I met via CDTA and now are a strong part of CDT Montana”, says Killen. “It means we’re doing something right and all the hard work to revive CDT efforts is very worth it.”

Completing the Continental Divide Trail requires help from volunteers across America. That includes people like George from Detroit who volunteered for a trail project in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. George seemed an unlikely trail volunteer; not the typical outdoor kind of fellow. He was a little awkward— tripping and stumbling over rocks and roots more than most.

Map of Montana mountains

2012 project locations on the
Continental Divide Trail
(click to enlarge map)


Why did he sign on for this project? “A few months back, I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition,” he explained, “and the docs say I will be completely blind in 2 years.” George elaborated that he made a list of all the places he wanted to see before he lost his sight. The Bob Marshall Wilderness was on his list.

He smiled “This was my chance. A volunteer trail project was the perfect way to see this vast wilderness, soak in views from the Continental Divide and with locals that knew what they were doing.”

Volunteer Diane Briggs from Walla Walla, Washington had this to say after recent CDT work project: “I love it. I love to be out in the mountains. You meet all sorts of interesting people. I love to see what we accomplish by working together.”

The CDT and our open spaces are for everyone, but they also require everyone to help care for and protect it. Despite struggling economic times, CDT Montana is a great example of stepping up to do your part. If you can’t volunteer on the trail for week; then please donate. These places are not just dirt paths, but special destinations that provide an escape, an adventure and a revival that cannot be found on a screen.

CDT Montana invites you to get outside. Do your part to take care of our special places. It doesn’t have to be the Continental Divide Trail, either. Check out the volunteer opportunities at your local park, the native plant nursery in your town or the trail system your community. And, even better, bring a young person to experience the “outside” and help them learn what it does for your mind, body and soul.

These places are for all of us. Please do your part to take care of them.

For more information...

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