GVLT explores conservation acquisition at Bear Canyon and potential new trail


GVLT has worked with private landowners throughout our valley for the last 30 years to conserve wildlife habitat, support local farming and provide community trails to benefit a rapidly growing population and future generations. Our efforts have helped secure beloved trails including Peets Hill, Drinking Horse and Sourdough Canyon.  Less well known are thousands of acres we have helped conserve which ensure a wildlife migration corridor on Bozeman pass and thousands of acres of habitat and agriculture in the Amsterdam and Churchill Region.  GVLT has always played a unique roll balancing tensions between growth and development and valued places that landowners and the community step forward to conserve.

Recognizing  the significant habitat  values that merge in the Bear Canyon area with growing public enjoyment in the area south east of Bozeman, the Land Trust has been working on a project to acquire, own and manage a small piece of property with an outsized impact on the public lands around it. Growth throughout the valley has had an impact on Bear Canyon.  New homes and development along with increased demand for recreation have impacted Bear Canyon as they have other neighborhoods in the foothills around the valley.  Neighbors have seen a marked decline in wildlife and an increase in traffic leading to two existing trailheads. A longtime friend of GVLT and Bear Canyon resident approached us with a vision for his undeveloped 18 acres. He asked us if we could help him protect the property from development and build a trail to access adjacent public land. We couldn’t ignore his generous offer and vision.

GVLT views this as an opportunity to advance stewardship of property that, if developed, could be lost to wildlife forever, and simultaneously as an opportunity to bring proper planning to growing trail use in the area that has outstripped trailhead facilities and management capacity that were once adequate when the Gallatin Valley’s population was much smaller than today’s.

We are excited to announce The Bear Canyon Trail and Conservation Project, a rare opportunity to  direct development pressures in our foothills into an intentional outcome that can benefit a greater number of interests.   During the COVID 19 pandemic, Gallatin Valley residents have turned to local trails in unprecedented numbers to clear their heads, refill their hearts and work legs and lungs. During challenging times, GVLT envisions this project contributing to current and future community health and opening up new partnerships and models for conserving what residents have said repeatedly they do not want to lose in the Gallatin Valley.

Our vision for the Bear Creek Trail and Conservation Project includes:

  1. Purchasing private land from a willing seller that is otherwise likely to be developed to secure habitat.
  2. Evaluate impacts of building and maintaining a new trail and trailhead
  3. Engaging with community partners, neighbors, and public agencies to develop a holistic plan that addresses recreation use and wildlife protection along the Gallatin Front especially the 6500 acres of State Lands adjacent to this parcel

The property is 18 acres of private land at the mouth of Bear Canyon and includes ¼ mile of Bear Creek. It is a short 6 miles or 10-minute drive from Downtown Bozeman. The property lies adjacent to nearly 6,500 acres of Montana State Trust Lands that are managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). It is strategically situated between two existing access points along the Gallatin Front- Bear Canyon/ New World Gulch and Mt. Ellis Lane. When acquired, GVLT would own, improve, and manage the property.

After a thoughtful process to understand wildlife presence and patterns on the property and strategies to mitigate impacts to wildlife and neighbors, GVLT envisions building a trail on the property. The trail would provide a 2 mile round trip hike to a scenic view of the valley and an accessible meadow trail that hugs the creek and provides opportunities for families to picnic. We hope to set a gold standard for land and trail stewardship and create a model for other land management agencies for balancing conservation and recreation.

Not only will the project conserve the 18 acres and create a new access point to public land, we hope it is the start of a larger conversation about recreation on those adjacent public lands. The DNRC is already seeing significant impacts to resources and wildlife on their parcel due to increased use and population. GVLT sees an opportunity to partner with the DNRC on a recreation management plan that considers wildlife and creates planned and managed recreational opportunities for our growing community.  Without intervention in this landscape, recreational use will continue to have increasingly detrimental effects on wildlife.

There are many ways you can be a part of this exciting community project. Stay tuned for opportunities on how to help.

For more information or concerns, email chet@gvlt.org.