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Credit: Kurt Wilson / The Missoulian

New West Daily Roundup for Sept. 20, 2016

Today in New West news: John Craighead passes away, glamping at Bear Lake, and National Science Foundation awards Boise State $907K in grant money.

John Craighead, one half of the famed Craighead twins, whose pioneering study of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park helped ensure their survival under the aegis of the Endangered Species Act, has passed away in his sleep at the age of 100 in his home in Missoula. According to the Billings Gazette, Craighead, who turned 100 August 14, “had been ailing for a number of years.” John’s brother, Frank, passed away in 2001 from Parkinson’s disease. From the Gazette:

“It was unexpected but expected,” said son Johnny, who has been the primary caregiver for his father and mother Margaret, 96.

“When he went to sleep Saturday night we didn’t expect it to happen, but we expected it to happen sometime soon. He was going and we’ve been grieving for a long time.”

Craighead founded the Craighead Wildlife-Wildlands Institute in 1958. In a 25-year career as leader of the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Montana, he helped establish UM’s wildlife biology program as one of the tops in the nation.

He and brother Frank were born in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 14, 1916. They went to Penn State University and, at age 20, published their first of 14 articles for National Geographic Society titled “Adventures with Birds of Prey.”

They began their work in wildlife research in Wyoming and Montana in the 1940s. The Craighead brothers wrote much of the text for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that was passed in 1965, even as they conducted a 12-year study of grizzly bears in Yellowstone that is credited with helping save the bears from extinction.

In 1998 the twins were named among America’s top scientists of the 20th century by the Audubon Society. UM endowed the John J. Craighead Chair in Wildlife Biology in 2005.

According to the Missoulian, no formal service will be held. John’s ashes will be spread in Jackson Hole, where he and his brother Frank lived many years. When Frank died, he died in Jackson Hole. From the Missoulian:

“I don’t think his impact on the wildlife profession can be overestimated,” said Dan Pletscher, who retired in 2013 as director of the University of Montana’s wildlife biology program that Craighead helped establish as one of the best in the nation.


The Craigheads’ writings and film work with National Geographic caught the imagination of many a budding outdoorsmen, including Jim Solomon of Missoula.

“Everything I did in the outdoors, John was the start of it,” Solomon said Monday. “It was his National Geographic TV show on Yellowstone grizzlies that made me decide I was going to move to Montana to work for him.”

That was in 1975. Solomon, who grew up in Arizona and later returned there to host a popular outdoors radio show in Phoenix, said he arrived in Montana on July 4. Two days later he was hired by Craighead’s Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit.

The following year Craighead encouraged Solomon to apply for an assistant’s position for a study of grizzlies in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Solomon said he spent six weeks and 270 miles on Craighead’s team accruing ground-truth data for what proved to be highly accurate satellite imagery.

“He made it happen for me,” Solomon said.

Craighead was pushing 90 in 2005 when UM endowed the John J. Craighead Chair in Wildlife Biology.

“I’m just so happy we got that done while John was alive,” said Pletscher.

The private dollars raised and placed in an endowment allows the school to attract people to the school that “you might not be able to attract,” Pletscher said. “A name like John Craighead attracts people because everyone know that name, knows that legacy and knows what John meant to wildlife and conservation in general.”

Over in Utah, according to Utah Business, Conestoga Ranch near Bear Lake has wrapped up its second “glamping” season. Glamping, or “glamour camping,” caters to tourists who want to enjoy the outdoors without feeling so, well, outdoors. By which we mean limited in terms of convenience and amenities. From Utah Business:

“I think in the second year we were really able to figure out what we needed to have to provide the experience that we wanted,” said Arnold. “We base ourselves around the American Safari Experience—we’ve upped our amenities and service.”

The resort looks a little like the Hollywood version of a old Western camp—unzip the thick canvas of your tent and within is a king-size bed with plush blankets and pillows, a large area rug, and in some tents, a separate bathroom area with a tin bathtub and basin sink. The covered wagons aren’t filled with supplies to go further westward, but their own amenities and beds.

To keep the ‘American Safari’ theme running, Conestoga Ranch goes out of its way to give patrons the full American West experience. Each of the bigger tents has their own fire pits, and check-in comes with a s’mores kit. If you come to dine at their Campfire Grill on the weekends, there’s almost always a cowboy or two crooning. There’s even a local rancher, Heber Dunford, (whom Arnold and the crew call Uncle Heber) that comes in on the weekends to teach children how to rope.

“He’ll take an hour or so, play with the kids, and teach them how to rope. He’ll go to fire to fire talking to people about this area, the west, and the pioneers. He’s an old time rancher, himself,” said Arnold. “He also sings fireside songs.”

There’s plenty else to do at Conestoga Ranch, as well. There’s weekend yoga, a games tent with air hockey and basketball, a playground for kids, and partnerships with some of the companies servicing nearby Bear Lake. For those hoping to secure paddleboards, boats—or go horseback riding or off-roading, the ranch provides a concierge service for those activities.

Starting this season, the ranch also unveiled a new event tent, called the Denali Tent. The tent is 1,700 square feet and has 15-foot-high ceilings at its peak, and can be used for weddings, reunions, or corporate groups.

“The tent zips all the way up or it can be completely open. It’s a great view,” said Arnold. “Corporate groups can use it for breakout sessions. There’s a wedding this weekend, and we’ll be using that tent. [The wedding guests] do their dinner at the restaurant and then move back up to the tent for a cocktail party and dancing. It’s a great flow of having all the amenities and entertainment right here.”

Finally, over in Idaho, the National Science Foundation has announced it’s awarding $907,000 to Boise State University to bolster the institution’s engineering program, according to the Idaho Business Review:

The NSF gave Boise State University $907,000 to create an academic redshirt program for engineering students. The idea is similar to athletic redshirt programs that allow a young athlete to take a year to develop without it counting against his or her college eligibility cap of four years.

The academic program targets nontraditional students, such as those from low-income families who are eligible for Pell Grants, and provides extra help freshman year. Low-income students typically have lower retention rates than other students, said Janet Callahan, professor at Boise State’s Micron School of Material Science and Engineering.

The NSF gave about $5 million in all to Boise State, the University of Colorado in Boulder, the University of Washington, Washington State University, the University of Illinois and the University of California in San Diego.

The Review adds the NSF money will support approximately 800 students. Scholarships will be offered to around 110 students, ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.

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