“Baby, scratch my back”… Slim Harpo, 1965, Excello Records

Started in 2003* by Richard Lessner, who quit his job as a Washington DC lobbyist/political fund raiser to move to Montana and begin what he thought was a great idea, the Madison River Foundation has had a rocky road littered with politics, hidden agendas, failed financials and fractured leadership.

Let’s take a look:

2003-2013. For the first ten years, Foundation finances sort of trundled along, using money from the “Gala” at the West Fork at $125 per person, the “Festival” in Ennis, and the Clackacraft boat raffle. A $10,000 private donation from a California couple was highlighted in the Spring, 2008 newsletter. I was surprised to see their names in print, but there they were. In the summer of 2008, the Foundation awarded Craig and Jackie Matthews their “Friend of the Madison Award.” Membership levels were offered: “Caddis” $25…”Stonefly” $50…”Royal Wulff” $100 and “Lifetime” $1000.

Madison River Foundation Assets…

2011 – $242,018

2012 – $190,489

2013 – $196, 915

2014 – $196, 396

2015 – $287, 448

2016 – $292, 714

2017 – N/A

As non-profits go, these numbers are pretty weak and stagnant. All figures are available to the public as well as salaries and expenses required by IRS via Form 990. For example, ED Liz Davis’ salary when she resigned in 2017 was $46,294.

2013. Lessner resigned, quit, retired, was forced out depending on which story you believe. MRF floundered for a year with no leadership until Hans Figi was named ED and took over in April 2014.

July, 2014. Mr. Figi resigned after only four months at the helm. I spoke with Mr. Figi and he stated that MRF was not “what he had in mind” as far as the way a non-profit conservation group should function. He was being kind. Another dead period with no leadership.

Sept. 2014. Liz Davis named ED.

2015. Madison River Foundation names Jeff Laszlo “Steward Of The Madison”

Foundation “Gala” at West Fork is scrapped as a financial failure.

Foundation “Fly Fishing Festival” is scrapped as financial failure.

2017. ED Liz Davis resigns.

During this time period, untold numbers of board members resign, bail out, desert the ship shaking their heads. The only board member remaining today left over from 2016 is Jackie Matthews. And this group… with their history of failed leadership, a merry go round of board members and shaky financial history…has a seat on the Madison River Negotiated Rulemaking Committee? Why? They can’t even keep their own house in order. Why should they have ANY say on the affected incomes of Ennis area business owners, fishing guides, or individual working folks?

Aug. 2017. Lauren Wittorp named ED of Madison River Foundation. She states publicly “that outfitters don’t care about the Madison River” (but she wants you to buy raffle tickets so you can own a boat just like the ones the outfitters use). And today she stonewalls each and every bit of progress the hard working Negotiated Rules Committee comes up with.

More MRF board members quit in disgust.

Foundation renames Gala “Catch The Hatch” and moves from West Fork to scrap heap to Jumping Horse Barn to Indian Ck. Ranch.

from MRF website:

Catch the Hatch Annual Fundraiser

 Save the date for the annual Catch the Hatch Fundraiser.

The fundraiser will be July 19, 2019, 5 pm at Indian Creek Ranch.

Sponsorship Information

Salmonfly ($5500)

  • A designated table, with 10 event tickets includes stainless steel wine or beer cup with bottomless drinks
  • 40 boat raffle tickets
  • 20- $5 raffle tickets to use at event
  • 100- $1 raffle tickets to use at event
  • Special recognition including print/online logo
  • VIP Tour
  • Plus a lifetime membership PLUS membership in the Stewards of the Madison, an elite group comprised of MRF members who contribute $1,000 or more annually

Damselfly ($2500)

  • 6 event tickets includes stainless steel wine or beer cup with bottomless drinks
  • 25 boat raffle tickets
  • 10- $5 raffle tickets to use at event
  • 50- $1 raffle tickets to use at event
  • Special recognition including print/online logo
  • PLUS membership in the Stewards of the Madison, an elite group comprised of MRF members who contribute $1,000 or more annually

Stonefly ($1500)

  • 4 tickets includes stainless steel wine or beer cup with bottomless drinks
  • 15 boat raffle tickets
  • 5- $5 raffle tickets to use at event
  • 25- $1 raffle tickets to use at event
  • Special recognition including print/online logo

More information and ticket sales will be coming soon.

Now this sounds like a good party to me….I am a big fan of stainless steel beer cups and bottomless drinks… and I am all for trying to beef up the bank account, but didn’t they try this “Gala” once or twice before and it failed? What’s different this time? More old, retired white guys? Cheaper wine? “An elite group compromised of MRF members who contribute $1000 or more annually”.

“Elite”…really? Is the Queen of fucking England going to be there?

Maybe I will get some of my hateful fishing guide pals together and crash the party. I know that ranch fairly well…been there…nice place…where Sherry Merica broke Jory Butler’s baby polo ponies years ago, and where we hid in one of the ranch horse trailers when we got caught in a rainstorm during a float trip recently. But where does the money go? To curry favor with the “big” donors? The “elite”? Who’s back is being scratched here?

If you spend $5500 you get to be a Salmonfly and become a member of an elite group…a “Steward.” If you spend $2500, you are reduced to a Damselfly, still part of the “elite.” But if you only spend $1500 you are a lowly Stonefly and not part of the “elite”…you are just a $1500 dung beetle struggling to push your ball of poop along the ground. With the Madison River Foundation, your status, your title, your level of importance, depends on how much money you spend. Maybe the Foundation will throw a bone to some of us fishing guides that Ms. Wittorp considers “uncaring” and let us in the back door. She could pass us off as hired help. We could put on bow ties and walk around with trays of jalapeno poppers and glasses of merlot. Or we could disguise ourselves as “Stewards” and sneak in after everybody gets drunk…if I only knew what a “Steward” looked like. And for sure, I always wanted to feel “Elite”…pass the Swedish meatballs, please.

In the forty years I have been around here there have been some beefs. People take sides…the town gets riled up, divided, angry. Usually we can overcome obstacles. Not in this case.

In my opinion the Madison River Foundation has to go. It has been the most harmful, divisive and negative organization of any I can remember. Frankly, it’s an embarrassment to Ennis. Environmental dysfunction. Self-importance run amok. A black mark on our town.

They say money and power corrupts. Add elitism. It happens everyday in Hollywood, Washington D.C. and Wall Street…and now it has crept its way into our back yard. The Madison River Foundation should be ashamed of what it has become and the damage it has done to our town. They have shown an arrogant disregard for anybody who doesn’t write them a check. They should be asked to leave by our good citizens. The Foundation should hang its head, then disappear and leave Ennis…forever.

We can do this without you.

*The Foundation was actually started before 2003 by a small group of individuals in Ennis…John
Duncan, Nancy Di Meola, Sherri Shows and others… but Lessner was the first Executive Director.