Gallatin Valley Land Trust raising money to buy land near Peets Hill

By Nora Shelley

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

August 27, 2021

The fate of 12 acres at the south end of Peets Hill is now in the hands of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, which is working to raise money to make good on a deal to buy the land.

The vacant parcel of land dotted with trees and sagebrush stretches from Burke Park to the north down to Church Street. A well-trafficked trail connecting the park to Kagy Boulevard slopes through the property. The Gallatin Range rises to the south, the M shines from the Bridgers to the north and the expanse of Bozeman stretches to the west.

“It’s a pretty iconic piece of land,” Gallatin Valley Land Trust Executive Director Chet Work said. “When the landowner said they were going to sell, we just feared the worst: a bunch of big houses.”

Gallatin Valley Land Trust was somewhat surprised when it learned the owners were putting up the land for sale in early July, but scrambled to get together a competitive offer after getting an early heads up about the listing, Work said.

The nonprofit submitted an offer within a day, but there were already other offers in.

Tom Starner, the broker for the property, said they had several developers interested in the land.

The sellers accepted a different offer, so Gallatin Valley Land Trust submitted a back-up. About two weeks later, Work said, the nonprofit was informed that the first offer had fallen through and Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s back-up offer was being accepted.

The catch? The land would cost them more than $1.2 million, money that Gallatin Valley Land Trust didn’t have on hand.

“Even with the speed that we had, we couldn’t compete with the developers,” Work said. “But in the end they accepted our offer. Now we’re scrambling to raise the necessary funds.”

Adding in expenses for trail additions and improvements and other changes Gallatin Valley Land Trust hopes to make to the land, the total cost of the project is $1.6 million, Work said.

Under the offer, the nonprofit has until January to raise the funds. The organization is working closely with the city on the project.

City Manager Jeff Mihelich said they haven’t worked out all the details yet, but if all goes well, they expect the city to be eventual owner of the land.

“I think there’s probably a lot of folks that assumed that that portion of Peets Hill was already under city ownership, and already a public park, and it’s not,” Mihelich said. “We think it’s really good for us to partner with GVLT to acquire the property, preserve the existing trail, expand the trails and, probably most importantly, prevent that property from being developed in the future.”

Right now, Work said Gallatin Valley Land Trust is working quickly to raise as much of the $1.6 million as it can.

The nonprofit announced the plan in a press release Friday, in part because it feels comfortable with its ability to raise the money.

“This is essentially a city park, this is where community is built,” Work said. “I feel confident and hopeful that those members of the community will step up and help make sure that this thing doesn’t get developed.”

Starner said the Simkins family has owned the land for generations.

They are excited to work with Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Starner said.

“It’s kind of a win-win,” Starner said.

Gallatin Valley Land Trust has been part of the conservation of Peets Hill from the beginning.

Much of the land on Peets Hill was slated to become a housing development before it became a dairy farm and later a horse pasture. In the 1990s, Gallatin Valley Land Trust founder Chris Boyd helped the city purchase the land that now makes up Burke Park and Peets Hill.

Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s office sits at the bottom of Peets Hill, north of the land the organization is now trying to buy.

“Thirty years ago, our founder, Chris Boyd, basically built the organization around the protection of the first part of Peets Hill,” Work said. “That was one of the first things that GVLT ever did in its existence. So it’s pretty special to us.”

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