Gallatin Valley Land Trust: Building partnerships that work

Explore Big Sky
April 30, 2024
By Benjamin Alva Polley

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks, Explore Big Sky will highlight three local nonprofits devoted to protecting our local lands and waterways who have partnered with our publisher, Outlaw Partners on this summer’s Wildlands Festival. Meet our first, Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

For over 30 years, Gallatin Valley Land Trust has been a nonprofit, grassroots conservation organization standing on the shoulders of its volunteers, partners and supporters who love southwest Montana.

Since 1990, GVLT has been working to connect people, communities, and open lands through conservation in Gallatin, Park, and Madison counties. They have conserved working farms and ranches, saved critical wildlife habitat, and protected healthy rivers. They have also built nearly 100 miles of trails with their partners in the Gallatin Valley, working hard to preserve what makes Montana so special.

The history of GVLT

After moving from Missoula to Bozeman in the late 1980s, Chris Boyd, a true visionary, foresaw the development coming to the valley and founded GVLT in 1990. His love and passion for the valley were instrumental in his efforts and the support he received from the community. As the city of Bozeman grew, he worked to preserve open space, setting aside pathways to the nearby public land alongside a group of volunteers, board members, staff and donors—all of which have grown in the decades since.

Who’s behind it all?

GVLT has a permanent staff of 17, and two seasonal team members hired through Montana Conservation Corps’ Big Sky Watershed Corps Program. They have a 14-member board of directors as well as a NextGen Advisory Board, which comprises young and mid-career professionals, consisting of 22 people.

What goes into preserving the valley

GVLT has partnered with landowners to forever conserve more than 65,000 acres of what they consider the most highly productive, scenic and wildlife-rich lands in southwest Montana. These lands, teeming with diverse flora and fauna, are a testament to their commitment to preserving our region’s natural beauty and character.

Last year, their total expenses were $2.3 million, all of which went toward expanding trails and conserving land for their community. The revenue for these expenses was primarily generated by generous donations from individuals, grants from private foundations and grants from local, state and federal agencies. This support enables GVLT to create exponential impact. Last year, they secured an additional 8.2 million dollars in public funding to pay landowners for their development rights and place a conservation easement on their land. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a private landowner and a land trust for perpetuity, such as GVLT, that limits development on a property. That piece of land is the key to the partnership.

GVLT’s strong partnerships

As a nonprofit, GVLT depends on strong partnerships with public and private organizations and landowners to protect what’s important to the community. They believe that leaning on one another helps build solid connections and makes their work possible.

“As I reflect on GVLT’s 30-plus years of work, I am humbled by the collaboration and partnership at the core of every single enduring conservation or trails project,” EJ Porth, associate director of GVLT, said. “While we bring unique skills to the table, we rely on our community’s expertise, passion and vision to get things done. Whether working with a farmer who wants to conserve their land or a newcomer to the valley who wants to invest in its future, our job is to catalyze people around a shared goal, our literal common ground.”

Spotlight projects

One of the first projects GVLT started was working with the City of Bozeman to purchase land from the Burke family to protect open space and develop trails on an iconic plateau within city limits known as Peets Hill. Peets Hill is much like Bozeman’s Central Park in that families take their children to sled there in winter, watch sunsets, and walk their dogs, and many others take visiting family or friends to overlook the city and the surrounding vistas. Over the last 30 years, GVLT has continued to enhance and expand this park. Most recently, with the generous support of nearly 700 donors, they purchased what they call Peets’ Final Piece, a 12-acre extension along the southern end of the park. Their efforts saved this piece from development and today the entire parcel is under the ownership of the City of Bozeman.

Projects in progress

GVLT believes trails help build community. This summer, GVLT will continue to expand and enhance the nearly 100-mile-long Main Street to the Mountains trails system in the Gallatin Valley. Since its inception, GVLT has partnered with the City of Bozeman and other landowners and land managers on this trail system.

In recent years, growth has continued to explode in this region, threatening access to trails, open space, the area’s agricultural heritage and wildlife habitat. GVLT acknowledges that development can and should happen in areas suitable for housing in our growing community. Their strategy is to prioritize conservation projects adjacent to public and protected lands, along rivers, or in the areas of the highest agricultural productivity.

Nonprofit organizations like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust are vital to preserving the relationship between nature and the community. With the energy of their supporters, they can keep nature’s heart pulsing through ours.

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