Struggling state park spreads awareness with kites
Montana artist DG House poses with her work. She's one of 20 Native American artists invited to create kites to fly over buffalo jumps as part of the Flying Buffalo Project.
House tells me, when she got the email, she was immediately on board.
"I'd never heard of that before. I've never heard of any Indian project, any native project involving kites," exclaims House.
House says, it's exciting to see her work on a kite but explains the greatest honor is to have a voice in history.
"When you see these kites flying, I'm hoping you'll remember these are real people, millions of buffalo were here, to remember, this is all reality, not just a story," says House.
I asked visitors what they think of kites like the one House helped create.
"Oh, they're wonderful. Just wonderful!"
Montana born Judith Schill shows me what she calls her amateur attempt.
She's one of many who designed her own kite for the Madison Buffalo Jump open house.
"We did get it up and it was fun until it slammed to the ground," laughs Schill.
But it's more than just a good time for Schill. She tells me it's reintroduced her to the park.
"To use it gives it, not only more meaning, but it spreads the word a little about our cultural heritage in Motnana," explains Schill.
Park managers tell me they hope the event will spread awareness about the importance of Madison Buffalo Jump State Park and encourage folks to invest in this historic place.
"I really feel that this is a great opportunity for the park," says Madison Buffalo Jump State Park Manager David Andrus.
Andrus looks out into a full parking lot.
"It's just wonderful to see the kind of turnout that we're having here today," smiles Andrus.
He tells me, last winter, he didn't know if he'd still be running this park come summertime.
That's because Montana State Parks doesn't own it and they have to pay $4200 a year to lease the land from the Department of Natural Resources.
"Our budgets are such that we don't have enough operations budget to pay that lease," says Andrus.
But he says he's optimistic, especially after seeing folks so enthusiastic about preserving the park, folks like Schill.
"I think it's important that we keep trying, that we try to make the funds available because so much history is captured in one place. If it's lost, it's gone," explains Schill.
It's why Andrus says, with the help of the newly formed friends group and donations from the public, he hopes they'll have enough money to cover the cost of the lease.
The Lee Metcalf Foundation has also offered to help. The group plans to match Madison Buffalo Jump's donations dollar for dollar.