August 7, 2020 we set up our table outside The Base Camp on Grand Avenue to sell Ales for Trails tickets!

You may notice a special feel when you head into The Base Camp to shop or get expert advice on mountaineering, paddling or cross country skiing equipment. Owners Scott and Deb Brown have taken personal care to ensure their customers and their crew are treated like family, and now, you can read about their family’s intriguing trails story that dates back 100 years in Billings….

The following article was written by staff writer, Dennis Gaub.

The Base Camp owner Scott Brown has an obvious reason for being involved in and supporting Billings TrailNet: his well-established stores in Helena and Billings cater to outdoors lovers and supply gear for their adventures.

But in a sense, Brown’s backing of Billings’ growing network of non-motorized trails is in his DNA; it’s something that can be traced back a century to when his grandfather was a prime backer of a road along the Rimrocks that would lure tourists to the city’s primary geologic feature.

Nowadays, Brown believes the value of trails goes beyond tourism.

“I really see the benefit of the trail system. Kristi (Drake, executive director of Billings TrailNet) and the board have promoted the Marathon Trail,” which would encircle Billings with a 26-mile route for bikers, walkers, roller bladers and others, he said.

“I have seen that as a key to the economic success of Billings.”

A trail system is a perfect example of an amenity that attracts young people to a city and makes it vibrant, Brown said.

He’s heard that “millennials don’t move to a city for a job, they move to what it has to offer them as a lifestyle. A job is secondary to that.”

Brown pointed to Zimmerman Park, atop the Rims, just west of Zimmerman Trail, as an example of the powerful pull exerted by recreational opportunities. The parking lot there is packed day and night with cars bringing people who enjoy trails atop the Rims.

Billings residents have long taken the Rims for granted, Brown said. He praised Drake and the Billings TrailNet board for “calling out the Rims and the wildness” of the sandstone cliffs that stand guard over Montana’s largest city.

The Yellowstone River, the longest stream without a dam in the lower 48 states, gives Billings another ace in its hand, according to Brown.

“We need to enhance what the river has to offer us,” he said, noting the contrast to how the Yellowstone is now viewed as an asset compared to the childhood experience he and others had. Back then, in the 1950s and 1960s, many Billings parents warned their children to stay away from  the wild, free-flowing stream because of the drowning danger it posed.

Brown traced the Base Camp’s involvement in Billings TrailNet to the first decade of the 2000s, when Drake’s predecessor, Darlene Tussing, helped found the organization.

“We’ve been a supporter for a long time,” he said.

Brown, a Billings Senior graduate who received a business degree from the University of Montana, opened the first Base Camp in Helena in 1975. He opened the second in his hometown in 1990.

As for his grandfather, Rockwood Brown, an early Billings lawyer, the story of that ancestor goes back to 1924.

“Rimrock Drive Plan is Nearing Completion, Realtors Are Told,” was the headline of a story published in March that year in the Billings Gazette.

Speaking to the Midland Empire Real Estate Board, Brown said plans for constructing “the much-talked of rimrock drive along the top of the rim(s) to about nine miles west of the city are being rapidly brought to completion.”

Realtors originally wanted to cut a drive directly through the sandstone to the top of the rims and then continue the road to the west end of the rims. The expense involved negated that option, so city fathers settled on continuing the road around Boothill Cemetery to the top of the Rims, then having it go west about 9 or 10 miles. It then connected to Zimmerman Trail and to what is now Highway 3, which goes to Acton and Broadview.

Brown took his pitch to the Kiwanis and Commercial clubs and got their backing.

“We lack a plan to take our visitors or to get away from business routine ourselves. We should exploit our natural resources for probably 50,000 strangers pass through Billings every touring season and they should be induced to spend some of their time here,” he said.

Brown calculated that if tourists could be convinced to stay in Billings a few days and go on side trips, the 50,000 visitors would bring at least $75,000 ($1.1 million in 2020, adjusted for inflation) to the city economy annually.

The senior Rockwood is now deceased, but his son, also named Rockwood, now 92 with a long career as one of the city’s leading lawyers, still gets out and about in Billings. Scott Brown said he took his father to dinner recently, and they could see the Rims from their restaurant table. That prompted Rockwood Brown to comment on their continued beauty.

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