How To Privatize a Mountain

We had followed the trail for a half mile when it ran headlong into a fence. 

Signs nailed to the trees blared messages of unwelcome: ​Private Property” and ​No Forest Service Access.” They were emphatic: The trail ends here. 

Our map — the official map of the Custer Gallatin National Forest — said different: The trail continued for another seven or eight miles, a substantial orange line winding through the foothills of Montana’s Crazy Mountains. 

The signs, though, had the desired effect. On the other side of the fence, the trail grew faint. 

The Crazies have been swept up in the wave of wealth and gentrification that is reshaping the West and carving up the landscape for profit.

This trail, known as the Porcupine Lowline, had been marked on U.S. Forest Service maps for nearly a century — the earliest I’ve seen is dated 1925. But, like many trails in the Crazies, it crossed private land to reach the National Forest. And, like many trails here, landowners had taken to putting up ​No Trespassing” signs, fences and padlocked gates at those crossing points. The practice is so widespread that the Forest Service counts only one remaining public access point along the Crazy Mountains’ entire 16-mile southeastern flank.

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