Opinion: Thanks, ‘Gaga,’ for lessons on public lands


Virginia, left, and Jim Court, right, on the boardwalk at Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Geyser many years ago with granddaughters Courtney and Anna Stagg.

In 1874, Edwin J. Stanley, our great- (times six) grandfather set out on a solo horseback adventure to Montana to tour the first designated national park. He wrote a book, “Rambles in Wonderland,” published in 1878 about his travels through Yellowstone National Park. His work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important.

Six generations later, our grandmother, state Rep. Virginia Court, D-Billings, will introduce House Bill 491 to designate March 1 as Montana Public Lands Day—a day set aside to recognize Montana’s public lands and the importance it serves for our wildlife, recreation, economy and way of life.

Our grandmother attended Montana State University in Bozeman.  When she was a junior, she was selected for the naturalist position in Yellowstone National Park. It is worth noting she was the second woman ever hired as a naturalist at Yellowstone, and the only woman to apply out of 60 applicants.

On her first day she was issued a uniform, which was a skirt, blouse and a “stewardess” hat.  She came back from the field with a terrible sunburn. She then successfully lobbied park administrators  to allow women to wear the traditional “Smokey the Bear” hat still worn today.

Our grandparents were the first recorded couple to be married by a geyser—Lone Star Geyser—in Yellowstone National Park. We visit the geyser frequently in winter on skis and summer on foot. Our grandparents raised their family hiking, camping, fishing and swimming not only on Montana’s public lands, but public lands all over the United States.

As a result, we, too, were raised in the great outdoors and to this day we love to hike, camp, ski and backpack all over Montana. Our favorite spots are the many beautiful lakes in the backcountry of the Tobacco Roots (Sailor Lake is a favorite), the high-country of the Beartooth Absaroka Wilderness (Froze-to-Death Plateau with views of Mount Wood, Mount Pyramid and Mount Hague), the front-country of the Seeley-Swan (Holland Lake is a favorite with a hike to the falls).

We are grateful to those in past generations who, like our grandmother, had the foresight to preserve, advocate and rally for public lands.

Our grandmother has served four terms in the state Legislature and we are proud to Montana’s Public Lands Day—as a day on which we can all be proud. A day for Montanans to come together and celebrate their public lands. A day set aside for many generations to come.

Thank you, “Gaga,” for your many years of public service.

Courtney and Anna, sisters, grew up in Billings and both are graduates of Billings Senior High. Courtney will graduate this spring from Montana State University with a major in global studies and a minor in photography. Anna is a freshman at the University of Montana and is majoring in criminology with a minor in political science.

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