When the well-known Maclay Ranch south of Lolo was sold to a Minnesotan in December 2007, people wondered and feared what would happen. It was a last conservation stronghold in the northern Bitterroot valley where development and increasing traffic abound. The Maclay family had owned the land for three generations and enabled hunters, anglers and wanderers to enjoy quick access to nature just a short drive from Missoula. Those who had enjoyed that privilege wondered who, if anyone, would be granted similar access. New owner Mark Reiling had an unlikely group in mind.
As Reiling received inquiries from those who had historically hunted the newly-named Sapphire Ranch and asked for access, he tried to make a fair determination. Coincidentally, the generous Reiling had recently read about a hunter with a disability and recognized the unique benefits he gained. It was there that he found his answer. With that goal in mind, Reiling researched accessibility guidelines and designed accessible waterfowl blinds. He then approached Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to develop a Special Access program beginning in fall of 2008.
Using his own resources and help from volunteers, two accessible waterfowl blinds were constructed near the Bitterroot River. Hunters with the FWP limited-mobility permit were welcomed to reserve a blind and hunt waterfowl two days per week. Two years later, Reiling worked with Summit ILC to accept donations and purchase an accessible hydraulic lift to expand that hunting privilege to big game archery. He also opened part of the ranch to Block Management for deer and elk.
Many hunters with limited mobility have since enjoyed this unique access privilege and benefited from the opportunity. The programs remain and eligible hunters can call FWP for more information, to reserve a date to hunt waterfowl or have a chance at deer and elk.