January marks the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Eagle Mount. Robert and Greta Mathis originally started up a small ski program in 1982 for participants with cognitive and physical disabilities across the spectrum. Their original vision to help participants “mount up with wings as eagles” through recreational activities in our beloved Bozeman landscape has grown and evolved to include more programs, events, and accommodations while the core ethos has remained the same throughout Eagle Mount’s history. While the facilities and programs have grown, the biggest strength of Eagle Mount is the staff and volunteers, many of whom come back year after year, including some who have been there since the doors opened at Eagle Mount. For those looking to volunteer, Eagle Mount is a welcome home.
If you ask any of the Eagle Mount staff or volunteers what the most important part of their work is, you will get the same answer across the board: “Joy.” Every person involved has been able to see the incredible impact they have made on the participants, their families, and the community as a whole. The motivation to stay for the influence they have is universal. Getting his start as a ski instructor at Red Lodge 15 years ago, Executive Director Kevin Sylvester took charge of Eagle Mount, alongside Program Director Trevor Olson, Director of Development Kirk Utzinger, Director of Finance Pearl Nixon, and Grants Administrator Anna Smoot, to maintain fundraising and find new opportunities for the property looked after by Facilities Manager Sven Wigert. The powerhouse staff behind the scenes includes the Marketing and Communications Manager Brittany Yeley, Sponsorship and Events Manager Aidan Young, and Development Coordinator Emma Ferrie. Administrative Assistant Andrew Flakker was a former participant of Eagle Mount who got started in the ski programs as a child with Cerebral Palsy. He found his way back to Eagle Mount to become a vital part of the inner-workings, holding down the administrative side of Eagle Mount and keeping the phones and front desk manned with the framed photo of him as a participant on display.
Each program offers participants the ability to gain confidence, new skills, and a community. The Adaptive Horsemanship program allows for both indoor and outdoor riding experiences and teaches companionship between the participants and majestic animals. The opportunity to interact with an animal that gives feedback is very fulfilling for everyone involved. For Adaptive Horsemanship Director Claire Brunner, it truly is a dream job full of challenges to overcome on a daily basis, but every day is full of rewards. Claire originally came for the horses, but stayed for the passion of helping others. Participants have been able to gain more independence in just a few weeks. More than 20 horses are looked after by Claire Brunner, Nikki Lorton, Joanna Rodgers-Liston, and Dawn Zurlo-Havey who all work together to bring therapeutic riding to participants of all ages. They all came in as volunteers, but couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
The Tim and Mary Barnard Aquatics Center is home to the great swimming programs and activities that Eagle Mount has to offer. The pool is set up to accommodate exercise for all abilities and ages. The Young at Heart (YAH) classes give those over the age of 50 a chance to work on strength, endurance, and improve overall health under the guidance of Pat Whitlock. Pat met founders Greta and Robert Mathis at a water aerobics class at Romney Pool while working at MSU, building the foundations of a lifelong friendship. Before the Tim and Mary Barnard Aquatics Center was born, the aquatics program found a home in pools all across Bozeman. As the program grew, Pat was brought in to be the Aquatics Program Director. After 30 years, Pat has passed the Adaptive Aquatics Director torch to Ryan Maruyama and Assistant Director Erika Driver while still maintaining five classes a week for the Young at Heart program. The Young Adult Water Exercise classes not only focus on physical fitness, but social communication through the instructor. The Aquatics Center also offers both independent and family swim times for those looking to move at their own pace without an instructor under safe supervision by a lifeguard. The Cancer Support Community offers classes two days a week. The wheelchair-accessible gym has been built up and instructed by Liz Ann Kudrna after her injury inspired her to bring the gym to life for those with mobility and disability issues.
The Adaptive Arts and Horticulture program is for those who are looking for a creative outlet. The programs run by Director Maggie Lowry and Assistant Director Jess Lee range from dance, art, music, and gardening throughout the year. Participants and their families are welcome to join in and make friends and connections while learning the arts in a safe environment. The music program is the newest addition coming this Summer. Aspiring artist participants get the potential to learn from guest artists in all kinds of crafts. Bozeman is full of beautiful greenery and vegetation. The Horticulture program gives the participants the knowledge and skills to be more connected to that nature through the Greenhouse on the Eagle Mount grounds.
Recreation comes in all shapes and sizes, Eagle Mount is the place for people of all abilities to come together and discover friendships and talents through everything that Bozeman has to offer. The summer offers rock climbing, cycling, and adventures around Bozeman and Big Sky like kayaking and camping. During the Winter, participants can get out and go ice skating or hit the local ski slopes at Bridger Bowl and Big Sky, just like when Robert and Greta Mathis started Eagle Mount. The Adaptive Recreation Director, Patrick Quinn, is the “Chief Enthusiasm Officer” with his great love for the outdoors and willingness to bring educational and empowering activities to all the participants alongside Assistant Recreation Directors Colleen Smith and Beth Wilson. The Adaptive Recreation Coordinator, Luke Gladis, like the rest of the team, fell in love with nature and has a passion for storytelling and compelling others to connect with the community and nature around them. The Adaptive Recreation programs are an essential gateway for the disabled community and their families to connect with all of Bozeman.
Big Sky Kids offers Oncology camps for youth and their families going through cancer. The camps run by Big Sky Kids Director Lauren Grover center around the great activities found throughout the state and local community. The families and participants can unwind and enjoy outdoor recreation like whitewater rafting. Going through cancer and caring for loved ones can be tough, but the camps are a great way to get connected with others going through a similar journey and make memories that last a lifetime. The best thing is showing the families they aren’t alone.
Robert and Greta Mathis have since passed, but the staff at Eagle Mount continues to humbly honor their great impact to the local community with passion for the mission. The 40th Anniversary presents a new year full of programs, both old and new, that would make the founders proud. The staff and volunteers are truly an inspiration, giving wings to participants and their families. Bozeman is lucky to be called home to this incredible organization. There is no better way to bring joy to the disabled community and those going through cancer than to get involved with Eagle Mount.