A few miles east of Missoula, Montana there's a small community on the banks of the Blackfoot River named Bonner. Situated where the Blackfoot flows into the Clark Fork River, Bonner was a nexus for the powerful timber economy that dominated western Montana for generations. Huge lumber mills processed the mile-high stacks of timber that were bucked from Montana's forests and shipped all across the west and the world.
Lumber mill on the Blackfoot River, Bonner, Montana. Image: Bonner Milltown History Center
When the bottom fell out of the timber industry in the 1980s and the big mills started to shut down, it left many small towns like Bonner floundering both economically and environmentally. The Bonner mill was one of the last hold-outs, finally closing for good in 2008. Behind locked gates, the massive mill buildings and landholdings sat abandoned and weed-strewn for years. Toxic waste from industrial operations seeped into the ground water and the historic Blackfoot River.
This part of Montana is literally a scene from favorite local son Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It. It was also home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the country. A decades-long effort to clean up the Bonner milll site and restore the Blackfoot finally bore fruit with the removal of a nearby decommissioned dam and the establishment of a beautiful state park with miles of hiking trails and world class fly fishing.
A summer concert in Bonner, Montana from the air. Image: Missoula Current
Today, on the grounds of the old mill itself is a vibrant new business park housing a wide variety of companies including a trailer manufacturer, steel fabricators, bicycle builders, a craft brewery, and an outdoor amphitheater that hosts musical acts of all kinds. By any measure, all of this marks the beginning of an incredible success story. And while there is still a long way to go, the revitalization of the community of Bonner is well on its way.
A key character in this story is a small local company called Planetary Design. Designer and builder of innovative drink ware and rugged coffee brewing equipment, Planetary Design occupies one corner of the new business park's largest building. Located right at the confluence of two rivers, Partner and CEO Jess Nepstad likes to say that Planetary Design is also located at the confluence of "coffee and the outdoors".
Having worked in the world of coffee since 1987, in 2016 Jess saw a huge opportunity to jump headfirst into the swift waters of the outdoor industry when he bought the company and expanded into the Bonner location. Revising their outdoor equipment offerings was a big priority, and that's when the BruTrek line of travel presses, camp cups, and tumblers was born.
Like a concentrated shot of espresso, Jess's enthusiasm for all things coffee gets you fired up. "When folks are off their phones and out in the woods, that's when their favorite coffee tastes the best - the context matters", he told me on a recent phone call. "There's no reason you shouldn't be able to brew a cup of coffee out there that isn't as good as a cup at home."
With an eye for aesthetics, but also commitment to building products that last, Planetary Design has carefully developed a line of outdoor-focused travel presses and brewing equipment that's not extensive, but is uniquely unconventional.
A case in point is their OVRLNDR french press.
With it's removable bottom and hand-friendly inner diameter size, the OVRLNDR is the easiest to clean travel press on the market. This is a boon for travelers in remote places who are looking to minimize their water use and cut back on their clean-up times. The double-walled vacuum insulation and tight-fitting lid keeps coffee hot for hours. And, my favorite feature, the patented BruStop plunger all but eliminates the muddiness and over-brewing that easily happens with french press coffee.
Maybe you don't need to brew for a whole crew? Just making one cup of quality coffee for the solo traveler is a snap with the 16oz Double Shot. Featuring an air-tight storage container in the bottom, the Double Shot keeps your grounds fresh until you're ready to brew. The screw on lid - easily oriented for both right and left hands - prevents spills, and the BruStop plunger guarantees a clean and crisp coffee drinking experience.
To complement their current line-up of outdoor ready travel tumblers and presses, Planetary Design is introducing some really cool new products in the coming year, including stainless steel, non-slip dog bowls for your furry friend, and what might be the ultimate brewing kit for your favorite footloose caffeine junky. The Expedition Coffee Kit will come in a high-quality aluminum case, and includes a 32oz BaseBamp french press, their 4" Airscape storage container, four camp cups, a stainless coffee scoop, and one CarGo can storage container. All organized in a high-density foam liner, you can feel like James Bond every morning just making your coffee.
BruTrek Expedition Coffee Kit
Above all, though, Planetary Design is committed to the customer. Jess is the kind of CEO that answers customers' emails directly, and ordering replacement parts for your press or mug is just a phone call away to their Bonner headquarters. Speaking of Bonner, Planetary Design is proud to be based in Montana, and in the old mill building - to be part of the revitalization of the Bonner community, which is something you can feel good about when you buy a BruTrek. A couple of years ago they raised $5000 for the local elementary school by hosting a charity kick-ball tournament. These folks take their coffee seriously, but they know how to have some fun, too.
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