“M” trail to close in Bozeman
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: September 28, 2023

BOZEMAN – The iconic “M” on the face of the Bridgers north of Bozeman gets spruced up every fall, with the infill of approximately 4 tons of rock carried up the trail by volunteer hikers and a new coat of white paint applied to the stony surface by Montana State University students.

That annual facelift, “Rockin’ the M,” took place as usual on Sept. 17, but it wasn’t the last work scheduled for the notable Bozeman landmark before winter sets in. The first phase of a projected multi-year “M” improvement effort will commence Tuesday, Oct. 3, when timbers needed to construct a retaining wall at the base of the “M” will be airlifted to the worksite by helicopter.

Kathryn Barker, recreation program manager for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, said the trailhead and trails leading from the “M” parking lot will be closed for safety reasons on Oct. 3 while the airlift, conducted by Central Copters Inc. of Belgrade, is underway.

The chopper will transfer 60 treated timbers, weighing in total about 2 tons, to a worksite near the platform at the base of the “M,” and the public will not be permitted in the area until the helicopter operation is finished.

“We understand the temporary closure is inconvenient for folks, but it will be pretty brief,” Barker said. “The new retaining wall will ultimately bring lasting benefits to the resource and to all the people who love to visit the ‘M.’”

After the timbers have been deposited at the worksite, Montana Conservation Corps and Forest Service trail crews will spend about two weeks building the retaining wall to prevent further erosion of the “M” slope. The parking lot and trails will be open during wall construction, though Barker said signs will inform people of the project and advise caution while work is in progress.

MSU holds a special use monument permit with the U.S. Forest Service, and both agencies are committed to preserving the landmark and enhancing its safety, officials said.

“We recognize that this is an area for public enjoyment and public awareness,” said Chris Pruden, MSU engagement and leadership program manager.

This fall’s work is being funded by MSU Student Success, which will cover the work done by the Montana Conservation Corps and the helicopter. Pruden said he expects that fundraising will take place to finance future efforts.

Both Pruden and Barker said additional infrastructure improvements are being considered and discussed by stakeholder agencies, including, possibly, construction of another retaining wall on the slope beneath the “M” platform, which also has shown signs of erosion.

“This is probably one of many future projects for the ‘M’ area,” Barker said. “We’re looking at the next 100 years of how we manage the resource to be sustainable.”

Pruden added that the “M,” which was built by then-Montana State College students more than 100 years ago, is an important symbol for the university and an important element in the community.

“We want to be leaders in ensuring a future where it has access, is well-kept, and is emblematic of the university,” he said.

New Podcast!

Riley's Meats - Butte Wild Game Processing