Guest column: Peets Hill offers shared space, mutual history

By EJ Porth for Bozeman Daily Chronicle

September 4, 2021

There is a common saying at the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), “By building trails, we build community.”

The power of this saying became abundantly clear last month when 12 acres at the south end of Peets Hill was suddenly for sale. When we learned that the fate of this parcel was in jeopardy it sparked the question: How do we possibly put a price tag on a place like Peets Hill?

We’re all living in one of the fastest moving real estate markets in the West, if not the country. Land feels out of reach for the majority of people who live here. But sometimes, the value of a piece of land isn’t commensurate with how many second homes or condos it can hold or the profit margin on a development.

Sometimes the value of land can only be determined by the community that loves it.

After thoughtful conversations with GVLT staff, Board of Directors and NextGen Advisory Board, it became clear that Peets Hill is valuable not because of what it could be, but rather because of what it has been for all of us and what it should be for our children.

Within a few days of announcing our need to raise the necessary funds to purchase the property, hundreds of donations of all sizes came flooding in. A young man even came to our office to donate his allowance. Many of these contributions have been accompanied by a personal story about a deep tie to Peets Hill. These stories of connection to the land, to the Bozeman community and to one another, have redoubled our commitment to this project.

Peets Hill holds so many of our precious memories living in this special place. It plays host to many of love’s major milestones: first dates, proposals, even weddings. It is where families gather to watch fireworks, see the sunset or catch a meteor shower. It is where we proudly share our home with our visiting friends and family. It is where kids train for a cross country meet and ride their bikes to school. It is where our heroes at the hospital take a break to receive nature’s medicine and where our neighbors go to grieve the loss of a loved one.

Peets Hill is where you recognize dogs before you recognize their owners, where you say “hi” to everyone you pass, even if they are a stranger. Peets Hill is where you have quiet moments to celebrate the very best day, or the hardest phone call of your life. You probably have a story or special memory of your own. Peets Hill, and all our parks and trails, hold literal and figurative spaces for community.

All these moments, past and future, hang in the balance of a real estate transaction. But that’s the nature of land. Land is at the core of why we all live in this beautiful place, and yet it is the one thing that feels like it is slipping through our fingers. With your help, we can make sure that this piece of ground remains forever ours.

While things may shift all around us in our rapidly changing community, we can make sure that some things stay the same. Peets Hill has given us all so much, now it is our turn to work like crazy to protect its final piece. The fate of this land is now in our hands.