To simply call Chuck Jarecki of Polson, Montana, an “RAF Supporter” falls way short of the contributions this pilot and retired rancher has made to the RAF and to general aviation.
He was one of those six fellows around the campfire who recognized the need to protect aviation access to the backcountry, and asked, “If not us, who? And I not now, when?” Chuck has always practiced good backcountry ethics, saying, “Pilots must respect other people’s values just as we expect them to show consideration for our means of wilderness access.”
Chuck was raised in Erie, PA, but was born with a Western heart. Between terms at Hotchkiss boarding school, and four years at college, he made his way to Wyoming and Montana working as a ranch hand to learn ranching from the ground up. After finishing his Agricultural degree at Cornell, plus additional course work at Montana State University in the range management department, he found his place and bought a ranch west of Polson in Western Montana.
Chuck and his wife Penny have always worked side-by-side, whether it’s raising cattle, or contributing to community events. Penny was known for her crew dinners and homemade pies. She founded the Greater Polson Community Foundation, a thriving nonprofit, and she continues serving in an emeritus role.
Jareckis bought their brand new Cessna 180 in 1976, and have logged thousands of hours together traversing most of the Western Hemisphere, including flights to the East Coast, venturing as far as Labrador, three and-a-half time zones from home. Escaping Montana’s winters, they often flew to Mexico, even as far south as Panama. Always searching for new challenges, Chuck mastered seaplane skills, and owned a Cessna 185 on Aerocet floats for a dozen years, exploring Alaska and Canada, making it all the way to the Arctic Ocean more than once. The 185 had a fuel-injected O-520. “I really hoped it started quickly after I untied and was adrift on the South Nahanni River just above Virginia Falls in the Northwest Territories,” he recalled. Luckily, it did!
Not many people from the Lower 48 can say they’ve landed at 49 Alaska locations from Anatuvuk Pass to Yakutat, as the Jareckis have. Venturing beyond the Western Hemisphere, Chuck and Penny have landed at 14 different places during a flying tour of Australia.
Where did his passion for flying take root? His father was an avid pilot, and Chuck has fond memories of the stories of the cabin Waco his father and mother flew cross-country before he was born. Later, after WW II, Chuck’s father worked as a corporate pilot.
The Jareckis have sold their ranch, and it remains a showplace of good range management. Having retired from his ranching career, Chuck had some time and a lot of knowledge to apply to the new RAF and its mission. His successful relationship with public land managers was a valuable asset, and Chuck was instrumental in saving the six BLM backcountry airstrips within the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. “Chuck set us on a path toward productive conversation with the BLM and the results we were hoping for in those early days,” RAF co-founder and Chairman John McKenna said.
When not on flying, trekking, or rafting adventures, Chuck has spent an incredible amount of time and energy making improvements at Ryan Field, too numerous to mention. From arranging the initial logging project, clearing areas for tie-downs, spraying weeds, obtaining, painting and placing the runway cones, “I stopped counting after I flew dozens of trips up there,” he says. Folks who’ve enjoyed the rustic Ryan pilot shelter, privy and his hand-crafted bear boxes, have Chuck and his occasional volunteers to thank. Many fun hours have been spent cooking and baking with the wood cookstove the Jareckis donated from their original ranch house, or frying steaks over the stone barbecue he built.
Tackling another important task, Chuck drafted the RAF’s Advocates’ Guide to Recreational Aviation, and the companion reference, Land Managers’ Guide to Airstrips on Public Lands, which are valuable resources for the RAF Directors, Liaisons, and those overseeing public lands.
A former director of Montana Pilots Association and co-founder of the RAF, Chuck’s philosophy helped craft the RAF Code of Ethics. “I am keenly aware of the struggles we, as advocates of recreational backcountry aviation, constantly endure to protect airstrips and our rights to use them. We must conduct ourselves in such a way to preserve flying opportunities for future generations,” he says. “Chuck’s early leadership and countless volunteer hours helped establish the RAF Way, and set it on a course for success,” McKenna added.
Submitted June 3, 2023.