It’s fitting that our final day in Helena, Montana involved a march in support of clean water and demanding the Army Corps of Engineers not issue permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) which is slated to cross the Missouri River (the source of our drinking water). When we first arrived in April we barely had time to unpack before heading to a march for Bernie Sanders’ bid for the presidency (oh, what could have been), so we were excited to join a hundred others in Helena to stand in solidarity with the brave water protectors on the front lines at the Sacred Stone Camp.
Today’s day of action, one of more than 200 similar events worldwide, focused on raising awareness on Helena’s busy Route 12 and rallying in front of the Army Corps of Engineers Office. It was great to see the countless waves and hear the cheers and honks from passing cars, and several people who were unfamiliar with the NODAPL movement stopped to ask why were all were gathered on a Tuesday afternoon. State Troopers even drove by and took everyone’s picture with a tablet; apparently families standing on a sidewalk are a threat and need to be fed into a terrorism database.
From there we marched to the Max Baucus Federal Building, only to learn the Army Corps of Engineers office was “closed” and there was no one to receive the message from our delegation. Department of Homeland Security officers watched from inside as we made our message of “Water is Life” and “Stop the Pipeline” loud and clear. In the end no one made it past the front desk, but we knew it was important to be there exercising our right to have a say in what happens on public land, land taken from the Lakota people (and whose “undisturbed use and occupation” of the surrounding lands is enshrined by the federal government in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty). It would take just one spill to pollute the drinking water for millions of people, so we couldn’t think of a more important place to be today fighting for the future.
Our final month here in Helena has been a busy one, slowly pairing down and packing up for our move across the Rockies to Lakeside, Montana. We knew we would need something to give us a break from making lists and stocking up on furniture for our new rental (our first unfurnished one in over 4 years), so we decided to get a one-month membership at Stonetree Climbing Center, Helena’s indoor rock gym.
We were all new to indoor rock climbing and couldn’t imagine a more welcoming place to learn. The space provides many options for climbers and non-climbers alike. There is a toddler room, hanging swings and rings, a smaller beginners’ wall, and a main climbing area with routes (indicated by different colored tape) varying in difficulty from novice to expert.
It’s amazing to see the progress we made after climbing just a few days every week. We started off tentatively on the early visits, no one venturing too far off the floor. By the end we were completely comfortable climbing up, down and sideways, and we all had the callouses to prove we had spent some good time on the wall.
Overall, we’ve had a wonderful nine months in Helena and still have only scratched the surface of the great outdoor and cultural resources this perfect-sized city has to offer. While we’re excited for the impressive hiking and paddling options that the Flathead Valley offers, it’s gems like Stonetree Climbing Center that will definitely keep us coming back to Helena to visit again and again.
Located just outside of Helena, the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts is a true gem. The former Western Clay Manufacturing Co. that provided bricks to Helena and surrounding areas, the site has been a nonprofit educational arts institution since 1951. Since then over 600 ceramics artists from around the world have come here to work and teach, holding classes for adults and children, experts and beginners alike. The Foundation also has a gallery and store selling ceramics supplies to support its mission. Even if you can’t find the time to take a class (which we can’t wait to do this fall), spending a few hours roaming the grounds with Mount Helena as a backdrop is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. From rusting equipment and crumbling structures to finished pieces and broken experiments, the Bray is an excellent place to lose yourself in a maze of art and history.