I first came to Gallatin County as an 18-year-old in 2004 to attend Montana State University. In many ways, Gallatin Valley as it exists today would be unrecognizable to me then. Yes, it is more prosperous, more diverse, and offers more opportunities. It’s still beautiful—but less now than it was: consider, if you will, the sprawl between Bozeman and Four Corners, the trophy homes sprouting along the foothills of the Bridgers, that unsightly brown haze on cold winter days along the western horizon—all a function of that steady conversion of the agricultural lands that surround our communities in Gallatin County into pavement, condos, and privacy fences.
I suspect many here in Gallatin County have that place that’s been lost to development. For me, it’s the poignant memory of standing on top of Peets Hill, that first fall in 2004, with the M and the Bridgers rising to the North, and a nothing to the east but a rolling expanse of golden wheat fields all the way to Chestnut Mountain.
I took this photo in the fall of 2004. This view and this landscape has left an indelible imprint upon me. I was, at the time, few months into my first time away from home, aquatinting myself with a new place, a new landscape, and falling in love with Bozeman for the first time. Callow, impressionable, and early in love.
The place where I stood to take this photo is now a subdivision.
Our open lands complement our big sky, but these are disappearing ever faster. In the 14 years since I moved here in 2004, Gallatin County’s population has grown by 25,000 people. Assuming a 2.75% growth rate, Gallatin County’s population will grow by 50,000 people more in the next 15 years.
It’s a privilege to live here, in a place of inspiring beauty, and that’s true whether you’ve lived in Gallatin County for a week or generations. How can we maintain what we value in our home, here, while keeping the door open to the new arrivals who share our appreciation and admiration of this place?
Open space conservation is part of the solution. While the view from Peets hill is somewhat obscured, thanks to the first two open space bonds and the tireless efforts of GVLT and other organizations, much of the land extending from Chestnut Mountain to the M is still undeveloped and will remain undeveloped. These lands are just a small portion of the total 50,000 acres that have been protected by the open space program which has lately run out of funding.
(Above: a map of Gallatin County lands with conservation easements. Red parcels are protected based on the proceeds of previous Gallatin County Open Space bond funding.)
If this resonates with you (and if you live in Gallatin County), you can help. This June, go to the polls (with every friend, family member, and distant aquaintance who you can browbeat into going the polls with you) and vote to support this mill levy to carry on this work, to establish new trails and recreational access, and to maintain what’s already been built, and to preserve open space.
I’ll leave you with this. While Peets Hill isn’t what it used to be (though it’s still pretty great, mind you!), I have a new favorite space.
This place is the portion of the Triple Tree trail that connects to the trailhead on Sourdough Road. Hiking, running, or biking this trail, you climb to the top of a low hill, Bozeman below you to the north, and to the south there’s three hundred acres of agricultural land, backing up to the foothills and the forest. On any given day, I’ve seen verdant alfalfa grass, golden round bales of hay, deer, and elk roaming in the fields.
That land exists today as farmland due to conservation finance facilitated by GVLT and public funding for open space conservation, that made it possible for the Schaplow family to retire from farming the land themselves without selling the land for development. I love that view, agricultural land backing up to the mountains.
I’m grateful that it exists for me and future generations of Gallatin County Residents. And so, in honor of this place and those lands, I humbly ask that you support this measure on June’s ballot, and vote to renew and continue funding for this essential work.
If you’re excited to support this effort, join the campaign kick-off party on March 13th at 406 Brewing. Or, learn more about the Open Space Mill Levy measure here.