“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.
- 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
- 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
- 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 this by a small group of individuals in Ennis, but Lessner was the first Executive Director.
RB for President!
Great read! Time to dismantle this group!
Amen. We owe you one for this breakdown.
How much for a Blowfly membership?
Clacka will not be donating a boat this year due to the MRFs behavior. The MRF fundraiser at a Livingston Brewery had to be cancelled because the brewery told them they were not welcome.
Maybe they can get a kyack to raffle off at the gala.
sad situation…thx Rich…RB
By the time this is over I hope to see no business sponsors left on MRF’s partner page. Several have already disappeared over the past few weeks. MRF has created a social issue where no biological issue exists. This lobbyist group needs to be disbanded.
I could scratch up $550 to get our elite table status! We get 10 people together to pitch in for the $5500 buy in, we make the gala a real event!
I agree time for them to leave our beautiful town and river
Just wow! We gotta fix this!
I am a firm supporter of RB for president and I agree with this whole statement. I APPROVE THIS MESSAGE.
Randy, I have floated the Madison for 60 years, started out on an inner tube! For the past 38 years I have returned home and floated the Madison in the same Avon raft i purchased at the Beaver House ?shop in Bozeman in 1979. I have kept track of the fish I have caught for most all of those years and I can tell you that over the past 5 years, my numbers are down overall, still an occasional nice fish, but numbers are down for me. I don’t like that anyone other than the state F&G are counting fish, too many intere$ted people!
I appreciate your well investigated article and I know your interests are good.
Please keep fighting for PUBLIC use of the Madison!
Randy….Slightly different point of view. You don’t shoot a dog because it needs to be wormed and you don’t do away with what used to be a good organization for the river and the community because it needs to be wormed. Join the MRF. Vote. A hundred new voting members from town could swing an election. Start a membership drive. Everything that’s been put in place can be reversed. And I think it would be kinda nice if the Queen visited Ennis. You could take her fishing.
It’s not worms, Jim…this dog has rabies…thx…RB
it is being talked about and I have had the same thoughts. But Randy is correct. Its beyond help. There are 5 open spots. We would have to get all five spots to affect any outcome. If we can’t get five its the same old thing. They do what they want. Why don’t we just put our efforts into a new organization that is a real attempt at an equatable approach to the preservation of public access to all recreational opportunities. If Tim up above is correct we could likely raise a hefty start up some and drink cheap beer at the G Bar instead of crashing there swanky party.Brian B
Brian, there are 9 open spots. The entire board must rerun for re-election. Just not giving them the name of our river to do as they please is worth the effort. Let them form anew organization with a new name.
RB…not rabies yet…vaccine will still work.
Quite a rant Randy! Very self serving, but I find it offensive and way off the mark.
You freely make assumptions (or should I say render accusations) about the MRF personnel over the years, as though you have some inside knowledge.
And you are very judgmental about the motives of members and donors, almost as if you were a mind reader.
You make no mention of MRF’s many accomplishments, only focusing on some of the organizations normal growing pains.
I will charitably view your ill informed diatribe as the opinion of one redneck guide.
The MRF may well have a temporary leadership problem, but it is a viable organization with many capable and well intentioned members!
I would start by saying I/we contributed to the Foundation for several years believing they had the best interests of the river in mind. Being from California we were not well informed until recently when Mike Green and Brian Rosenberg enlightened us. We no longer contributed. Instead we will support the efforts of local, knowledgeable, like minded, outfitters and friends Brian and Mike.
Please, CARRY ON.
I have been fortunate to visit Ennis for 40+ years and introduced friends to what I believe is the most perfect fishing destination on earth. YNP attracts tourists, but the Madison draws fishermen. If MRF serves to preserve and enhance this environment, who better to serve as ambassadors of the Madison than the guides who spend their life on this water? Perhaps MRF should foster their relationship with the guides, offer them complimentary or discounted membership and acknowledge that a day spent with a good guide can only encourage return visitors who help support the grass-roots businesses of the area.
If MRF is sincere in their stated objectives, they would bridge the gap between the wealth of the valley and the rest of us and not contribute to the division.
Why do we need MRF? What purpose does it serve? What are the tangible results of their efforts?
The river is a gift from god and provides the people of Ennis a livelihood.
Why do we need supervision by a self serving foundation who do not depend on this resource?
And even the Mathews, true stewards of the river, have bailed.
After making a very good living outfitting for 30+ years on the Madison River the Mathew’s are trying to shut the door behind them since selling their fly shop in West Yellowstone. Now they are only concerned about creating a private play ground for themselves and their neighbors and to hell with anyone else now trying to make a living on the Madison River.