Meet onX Backcountry Ambassador Mike Foote

In this series, we’ll be highlighting a series of four of our Backcountry Ambassadors to shed some light on why they’ve endeavored to spend a life outdoors, what conservation means to them, and how you can play a part.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your sport of choice? How long have you been doing it?

My name is Mike Foote. I am originally from the flatlands of northeast Ohio and have successfully made the transition from diehard baseball player to mountain endurance athlete. I live in Missoula, Montana, at the southern edge of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem and explore the area on foot and skis as the seasons allow.

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What was a catalyzing moment for you to create a life in the outdoors?

When I was 18, I did a road trip out West for the first time. After driving through the night I woke up in Moab, Utah, and my mind was blown by the landscape. I spent a week hiking and biking around the red rocks, mountains, and canyons of the Colorado Plateau which made me realize  that wandering through large and complex landscapes needed to be a major part of my life moving forward.  

How do stewardship and preservation play a role in your career as an athlete?

As a mountain endurance athlete, I get to move through and intimately experience large landscapes in my day-to-day existence. I’ve gotten to know the land well, and my curiosity has led to a desire to learn more about who owns the land, stewards it, issues that surround it, and how I can help. I stay involved as a board member of a local Land Trust, I write articles for publications like Trail Runner Magazine, and I work to stay informed on the numerous issues surrounding conservation and stewardship in the West. 

What are some ways for recreationalists to easily start adopting more responsible practices? Expanding on that, what are some more intermediate/expert level stewardship opportunities that they could endeavor in?

I’m a large proponent of acting locally. It’s such a great intro to understanding the impact you can have on the lands you care about. Learn about organizations that preserve, protect, and steward the land you love. Seek out volunteer opportunities or other ways to support their missions.  

Beyond that, take the time to learn about conservation issues in your area, find ways to support causes you care about, foster a large coalition of diverse interests to support your causes, and you will be more successful. 

How has your thinking about conservation and stewardship changed over time?

I love this question. A decade ago I was only thinking about the land and our need to show restraint as a society to preserve and then care for the places we love. I was myopic and rigid in my beliefs of what was right and wrong in conservation. Now I understand how complex land and our relation to it can be. Acknowledging the reality that the conservation community is largely wealthy and white, and that the history of the land is much more complex than I will ever know, made me realize that I need to always to aggregate a wider variety of perspectives to gain insight from.  

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen in your community that ignited your excitement for the future of responsible outdoor recreation?

While I’m struggling to call attention to a single moment, I have experienced a groundswell of conversation leading to action around land conservation amongst my peers in the mountain endurance community in recent years. The culture in our community has shifted to a sense of responsibility to invest in the land that has given us so much. We have a long way to go, but we are heading in the right direction.

Where do you see the future of environmental stewardship going?

As the pressures on the land grow, we will see the value of protecting them increase exponentially. Additionally, we will see the community of people looking to steward and protect our lands become more young and diverse. This is our greatest resource, and we will understand this as a society more clearly with each passing year. 

How did you get involved in the Five Valleys Land Trust and what are some of the projects you’ve done with them?

After realizing the impact their decades of work had made on the land I had traveled over almost every day, I began supporting the organization and volunteering at some of their events. I also made myself available as an ally in the running community to help amplify their efforts in my sphere of influence. They asked me to join the board in 2016 and I can honestly say it’s been one of the most valuable opportunities of my life.  

The largest project I have worked on was serving on a committee to get a $20 million county open space bond and half-million dollar annual stewardship levy on the ballot and passed in 2018. These funds will likely be leveraged 3-4 times their worth with state and federal grants and will leave a lasting impact on the landscape in and around Missoula for many generations to come. 

For more information on Mike Foote, follow him on Instagram.

Photos by Anastasia Wilde.

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Mitch Breton

Mitch Breton was raised on the shores of Maine's coastline chasing fresh snow, trout, grouse, and the best darn mosquito repellent money can buy. Covering topics from fly fishing, car camping, and beyond, he thrives on a story well-told.