Leep Family Conserves Third Property

The Gallatin Valley Land Trust and the Leep family have finalized a conservation easement on 321 acres of open land in the Amsterdam/ Churchill area west of Bozeman.  This is the third conservation easement GVLT has completed with the Leep family, limiting the division and development on the land in perpetuity. This conservation easement will ensure the Leep family’s highly developable land remains viable for agriculture and will protect the scenic views and wildlife habitat that open land offers in our rapidly growing Gallatin Valley.

The Leep family has been farming in the Gallatin Valley since the 1920’s.  Sherwin and Greg Leep grow wheat and alfalfa hay with three of their adult sons. The property is situated in a quickly growing area in an un-zoned part of the county, less than four miles from Four Corners and less than 5 miles from Belgrade.  While the property sits near a growing community, it is also an important puzzle piece in a larger conservation effort, stitching together four other GVLT conserved properties creating a block of 2,000 conserved acres in agricultural production. While the property could easily hold hundreds of homes, Sherwin Leep believes the land’s best and most productive use is agriculture. “It is special. I would say that this is some of the best farmland in the valley. It is located beautifully. It is close to the Gallatin River corridor so there are some wildlife components to it. There are a lot of compelling reasons that this ground should never grow houses. It should stay in agriculture.” The Natural Resource Conservation Service agrees; they designated the property as having 100% agriculturally significant soils, 96% of which were considered prime soils for farming.

The Leep family is committed to farming in this area. They’ve used the funds from the purchase of conservation easements to reinvest in more agricultural land in the area. This conservation easement was funded in part by the Gallatin County Open Lands Program and the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  These local and federal dollars make a conservation easement, which reduces the value of the land significantly, a viable financial option for farming families like the Leep family. It allows them to continue their legacy of farming while protecting the wide open spaces of our Montana landscape.

As Belgrade and Four Corners grow west, many farmers in the Amsterdam and Churchill area are using voluntary conservation easements in partnership with GVLT to protect large blocks of land, ensuring viability for traditional family farming operations far into the future. Landowners, GVLT, and taxpayer funded Gallatin County Open Lands Program are making a strategic effort to keep certain parts of our valley from being fragmented into small parcels as the area experiences unprecedented growth. This fragmentation makes it much harder to farm, both logistically and economically, and reduces the wildlife habitat and scenic quality of the entire landscape. Taxpayers have invested $20 million in the Gallatin County Open Lands Program since 2001 and have succeeded in protecting 50,000 acres on over 50 properties concentrated in strategic areas of highly developable open land in the valley.  Taxpayers have also successfully leveraged federal and private dollars to match their local investment at a rate of 5 to 1. The Leep family’s 321 acres is an exciting and important addition to a growing list of nearby projects, within 5 miles of 14 other Open Lands Program funded projects. With the last remaining dollars in the Open Lands Program allocated and development showing no signs of slowing, GVLT, partners, and landowners like Sherwin Leep are aware that time is of the essence and we must try now to reinvest in our valley’s future.  “I think it is really important that some of these properties are conserved now because this is the time. We better do it now because they won’t be here 50 years from now. It’s important.”