The addition of a visitor center, museum and a recent change in park management is giving a new look to Travelers' Rest State Park.
The state park, located just west of Lolo along Highway 12, marks the location of a centuries-old Native American campsite and trail junction, which Lewis and Clark's expedition used as a campsite in 1805 and 1806. Travelers' Rest is the only campsite on the Lewis and Clark Trail with physical evidence of the expedition.
The 51-acre park opened to the public in May of 2002. For the past seven years, Travelers' Rest Preservation and Heritage Association (TRPHA)—a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of the Travelers’ Rest site —has been funding, managing, preserving and interpreting the park for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) through a unique management agreement.
In July 2009, funded by money from the federal stimulus package and a redirection of some existing state park funds, FWP took over management of the park. TRPHA remains responsible for education and interpretation at the park.
Up until now, Travelers’ Rest has operated as one of the most historically significant but least developed of Montana’s state parks. Traditionally, the park offered a picnic site, information kiosk, hiking path, a small yurt with limited visitor and office space, and a series of programs presented by park staff to interpret the park’s rich history.
Now visitors will also find a visitor center, museum and more on-site staff. The park now offers a 10,000 square foot building with a public and visitor reception area with a retail store and a space that will accommodate up to 200 people for special presentations.
FWP is leasing the pre-existing building from private owners and park neighbors, Bill and Ramona Holt. Under the current agreement, approved by the FWP commission in June, the space may be leased for up to two years with a possibility to renew the lease at the end of that time period.
The lease agreement also provides park visitors with access to the Holt’s privately held museum collection of artifacts related to Native Americans, Lewis and Clark, early frontier life and the history of logging in Western Montana. The Holt’s have served as advocates and supporters of the site for many years.
Today visitors that want to see the museum collection must do so by a guided tour offered every day of the week at 10am, 12pm or 2pm. FWP says that the museum may eventually offer self-guided tours that will be open to visitors at any time during the park’s normal hours of operation.
The leased building will soon house office space for the park’s new manager, Loren Flynn, and a few other state park and TRPHA staff members. Loren, once the executive director of TRPHA, was recently hired by FWP as the state park manager.
Flynn managed the state park as the executive director of TRPHA for all of the park’s seven years. Prior to coming to Travelers’ Rest, Flynn was the Communications Director for MT Audubon and also worked for the University of Montana in facilities and event management.
“Loren has been instrumental in growing the park and its programs for many years now, and we are really pleased to have him and his experience as part of our FWP staff,” said Lee Bastian, FWP Region 2 State Parks Supervisor. “In his years at the park, Loren has helped increase visitation and revenue, and helped connect the park with local communities, organizations and visitors from around the world.”
Flynn will share his new office space with Maria Berger, Program Coordinator for TRPHA. In the future, the office will also be home to a park interpretive specialist and intern that are currently housed at the Missoula office. This move will help FWP establish a local presence in the Bitterroot Valley to oversee the day-to-day management of both Travelers’ Rest and Fort Owen State Parks. Fort Owen is located approximately 15 miles south of Travelers’ Rest along Highway 93 and preserves the remains of the first white settlement in Montana.
Flynn reminds prospective visitors that all the new park facilities are already open to the public, but a grand opening event is planned for Aug. 21, 22 & 23. The opening will coincide with the fourth installment of the “Discover the Seasons of Travelers’ Rest” series, funded by TRPHA and Humanities Montana. The series uses a different theme each month to highlight the history of western Montana. The August theme is “Tools and Textiles.”
Additionally, FWP has secured a grant from the Montana Arts Council to bring Rob Quist, a native Montana songwriter and performer, to Travelers’ Rest on Friday, August 21 as part of the grand opening weekend.
The park is open daily from 8am-8pm, and the visitor center is open from 9am-4pm daily with museum tours offered at 10am, 12pm and 2pm. Park interpreters are on hand every day from 9am-5pm to answer questions and guide tours through the historical sites on the park grounds.
FWP and TRPHA staff work together to provide a lot of special programming year-round at the park. For more information on these special events, visit www.travelersrest.org or contact FWP or TRPHA staff at 273-4253.