Ranch buy adds to huge Montana wildlife reserve

A huge Montana nature reserve added a 47,000-acre historic ranch to its patchwork of lands along the Missouri River on Friday, a significant step in a privately funded effort to stitch together a Connecticut-sized park where bison would replace livestock and cattle fences give way to open range.

The PN Ranch north of Winifred sprawls across rugged badlands, tall grass prairie and cottonwood-filled valleys. It’s almost wholly within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

It includes the remnants of the Montana Territory’s first military post, Camp Cooke, and was reportedly a rendezvous point for American Indian tribes on the Great Plains. It was purchased by the American Prairie Reserve.

“Over time the goal is an all-wildlife, public access situation,” said Sean Gerrity, president of the Bozeman-based reserve. “People will come and the first thing they will notice is ‘Welcome’ signs instead of ‘Keep Out’ signs. They will notice fences down and a distinct openness to the landscape, unfettered by fences, power lines, power poles.”

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