Celebrating 30 years of conservation at Bohart Ranch, now Crosscut

Jean MacInnes at Jane’s Gate. Photo taken by GVLT founder Chris Boyd.

This month, GVLT and Crosscut Mountain Sports Center joined together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a 276-acre conservation easement that forever protects a significant portion of the internationally renowned sports center in Bridger Canyon. Thanks to the vision and generosity of Jean MacInnes, the landowner who believed in the importance of conserving the property, countless recreationists have and will continue to explore the trails that wind through this beautiful landscape adjacent to Bridger Bowl and the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Jean, a well-respected local outdoorswoman, grew up in the Adirondacks where she discovered a passion for skiing at an early age. She smiles as she recalls paying a local dairy farmer 50 cents for a rope tow on his property.

Her adventurous spirit led her to Montana in the summer of 1959 to work at Elkhorn Ranch, a historic dude ranch one mile north of Yellowstone. She immediately fell in love with the landscape, the opportunities for outdoor adventure, and the wildlife.

Several years later she transferred from Middlebury College to Montana State College (now Montana State University) to complete her degree in geography and has remained in the Gallatin Valley ever since, eventually purchasing the iconic Bohart Ranch in Bridger Canyon.

In 1987, Jean and her son, Chris Myers, opened the Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center. Their partnership was simple—Jean owned the land and Chris owned the machinery.

“Chris was an exceptional groomer,” says Jean with pride.

She remembers the humble beginnings when the grooming machine was kept in her garage.

Over the years, the center grew to earn an international reputation, hosting multiple NCAA Nordic Skiing Championships, a U.S. Senior National Championship, an Olympic Tryout Final, the 1995 Summer Biathlon Nationals, and many more Nordic skiing and biathlon events. Bohart Ranch also allowed horseback riding and mountain biking.

Growing up in a “conservation-minded” family, Jean wanted to protect this special landscape from the rapid development occurring in Bridger Canyon. She reached out to GVLT founder and Executive Director, Chris Boyd, who partnered with Jean to establish GVLT’s 16th conservation easement. The agreement they crafted together limits future development and subdivision of the property and protects conservation values, including scenic open space, recreational opportunities, and critical habitat for a variety of plant and wildlife species.

When asked about some of her favorite memories at the ranch, Jean recalls sitting in her driveway waiting for members of the local running organization, Big Sky Wind Drinkers, to arrive for a fun run. She watched a resident moose wander into a nearby pond for a drink. She also remembers when access to the biathlon range for competition had to be rerouted around a moose and calf that were grazing on the property. Jean was grateful to live amongst this wildlife.

When Jean and Chris opened Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center, they had a clear goal.

“We wanted to provide good cross-country skiing for the area, which we did for 30 years,” says Jean.

After three decades, Jean was ready to sell the property to someone who shared her philosophy and vision so she could retire. Crosscut Mountain Sports Center was the right fit. In 2016, Bohart Ranch became an important part of Crosscut, which now offers 28 miles of winter trails for Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and fatbikers, as well as 15 miles of summer trails for hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, birdwatchers, and more.

“We are proud to continue and build upon Jean’s legacy of welcoming the community for cross-country skiing, biking, and other types of outdoor recreation in Bridger Canyon. Those who have visited know that the former Bohart Ranch, now part of Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, is a special place. The conservation easement Jean put in place ensures that our community can continue to visit this landscape to connect with nature for generations to come,” says Angie Weikert, Crosscut president.

Because the conservation easement is a perpetual agreement, its protection remains in place, even if the land is sold. GVLT continues to visit the property every year and partners with the landowner, now Crosscut, to ensure the provisions of the easement and Jean’s vision are forever honored.

Today, Jean lives in town but has kept some mementos from the past.

“The old trail maps make great placemats,” says Jean with a grin.

She also kept the original sign for Downey’s Butte, one of her favorite trails.

“It’s such a cool trail,” exclaims Jean. “It goes over a knob and then, if you stay in the tracks, there’s an exhilarating ride down!”

“We all owe Jean a debt of gratitude for her commitment to conserving this beautiful landscape and for making it accessible to generations of recreationists,” says Chet Work, GVLT executive director. “She took the long view very early in GVLT’s history, leading the way for others. Today, GVLT has five conservation easements in Bridger Canyon, protecting more than 1,200 acres in this area.”

Thanks to Jean’s visionary decision 30 years ago to partner with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, local recreationists and visitors from around the world of all ages and abilities can continue to explore the trails, wildlife may roam the area, and the scenic views will be forever preserved.