Balancing Conservation and Recreation

January 15, 2021

2020 highlighted challenges around recreation in our growing community. The pandemic pushed us outside and even accelerated the migration of people to our valley. GVLT heard more concerns over pressure points on our trails and open lands than ever before. We have been reckoning with these challenges for years.  How do we conserve a place and create ways for people to explore and appreciate it? How do we accommodate a growing community’s need for access to public lands and protect the wildlife that live there? There are no easy answers or solutions to these questions. However, with population projections estimating 50,000 new residents in 27 years, we cannot ignore them either.

Thanks to the support of many you over the last 30 years, GVLT has learned how to lean into these hard conversations. Finding creative solutions to plan for recreation while balancing the conservation of wildlife habitat will not be easy.  (For more on GVLT’s thoughts on the challenges ahead, check out a recent Guest Column in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle written by our Executive Director, Chet Work).

As a land trust, we use real estate transactions for conservation and recreation impact. As you likely know, the real estate market in the Gallatin Valley is moving quickly. For this reason we were especially grateful to hear from a local landowner and longtime friend of GVLT who had a vision for his property in Bear Canyon. His 18-acre property is adjacent to 6,500 acres of State public land on the edge of town with growing recreational use.  He wanted to ensure that his property didn’t become home sites and  to share the property, and the access to public lands, with the community.

Properties like this, and landowners like this, are rare and GVLT is proud to share that we’ve purchased the property and secured the opportunity for future recreation and access to public lands. Nearly 50 individuals and businesses, including significant contributions from our NextGen Advisory Board, contributed to this project, helping us seize a fleeting and rare opportunity before it slipped away forever.

However, in a growing community, creating new trails is not simple or straight forward. Our recreation has impacts and we are living and playing in a fragile ecosystem. Trails require thoughtfulness, long term management and maintenance, and a vision for connectivity.   While we now own the property, we’re taking our time on due diligence to fully understand the area and possible impacts. GVLT will close the property to the public until further notice.  We are initiating both a wildlife study and a traffic study that should commence later this spring.  When these are completed, if we believe that conservation values of the parcel can be sustained with public access and a trail, we will further study the wetlands and soils prior to construction of a trail or parking area. We are considering strategies such as seasonal closures for wildlife to mitigate the impacts. We are also in the early stages of work with our partners at the State to lead a collaborative discussion about the future of the adjacent State public lands.

If we’ve learned one thing over the last 30 years it is that we can do hard things together (remember when we launched the Main Street to the Mountains idea?!). Thinking ahead can be difficult but with thoughtful people like you by our side, we are confident that we can find creative common-ground solutions that protect, and enhance, our area’s unique habitat, recreation opportunities, and access to public lands.