Not New News: Archive Article Shows Legacy of Conservation


Recently we’ve been revisiting and sorting our media archives. It has been a joy to see all of the stories, projects, and people who have contributed to the Main Street to the Mountains trail system and conserved landscapes of the Gallatin Valley. We’ve seen articles from our inception in 1990 referencing the alarming rate of development growth in the area. We’ve seen letters from community members, bridge installations, ribbon cuttings, and conserved properties. But one story continues to stick out and reminds us of the permanence and lasting legacy of conservation, our very first landowner and conservation easement, Gertrude Baker. While the world has changed and time marches on, her land is exactly as it was in 1991. As was her wish, the moose still wander. The flowers still grow. And even as the nearby town of Bozeman has doubled in population in the 18 years since she conserved her land, one can still find quiet and Montana splendor all around. That is the lasting legacy of conservation. What we do tomorrow will protect our valley, and the things we love, forever. While Gertrude’s story is the first of many, we share it as a reminder that the work of GVLT is not new news. It is a steadfast, consistent, acre-by-acre strategy that stands the test of time. We’re still doing what we did back then and building on the vision and legacy of those that came before. 47,000 acres and counting, here’s to you Gertrude.

Big thanks to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle for celebrating the big moments in trails and conservation over the years!

Land lock: Gertrude Baker has preserved her property

By Lang Smith, Chronicle Staff Writer

Forever is a long time- but that’s how long Gertrude Baker wanted to protect her land on Trail Creek and the wildlife that will live there.

From now to eternity, the land will be essentially frozen in time with a conservation easement. Her 181-acre parcel east of Bozeman cannot be subdivided, developed or harmed in any way because of a set of irreversible regulations embodied in the easement governing the property.

“The most important part, I think, is to preserve a piece of land,” Baker said. “It’s not the best in the world, but it’s pretty nice and many people can see and enjoy it.”

Baker’s property can be seen by eastbound drivers eight miles from Bozeman on Interstate 90, just past the limestone outcropping that protrudes from the hill to the south.

“They can look over here and it will be undisturbed land,” Baker said. “The colors are beautiful in the fall and the timber is still here. It’s not cut and hacked up like it is in most places and they see it for a whole mile.”

Baker, 86, bought the property in 1958, and moved there in 1972 after retiring as a clinical psychologist. She still teaches a class each spring at Montana State University.

Usually soft-spoken, Baker’s voice takes a hard edge when she talks about anything threatening the wildlife she shares her land with. She recalls coming home to find a huge gut pile and severed head a hunter left in the road- all that remained of a gentle cow moose that used to take naps leaning against her cabin walls year after year.

She is up early every morning bundling up to fight the morning chill, preparing feed for the hundreds of birds that flock to her feeder every winter.

“I buy suet at the meat department, and instead of giving it to them raw with all the bugs, I wrap it in tin foil, and heat it until it’s sterilized,” she said.

Baker also buys peanuts, steams them until they’re soft, then slives them with a paring knife for the birds and squirrels. “Everybody thinks that’s ridiculous, but they just love it,” she said.

Many of the animals have been given names by Baker, including a clever squirrel named E.K. (Evel Knievel) Squirrel, who was the only squirrel ever to get into her specially designed “squirrel-proof” bird feeder.

The Baker property is a deer nursery of sorts every spring, and she often sees the same does returning to have their fawns.

“In May the pregnant does start returning and they have their youngsters in here,” she said. “It’s a nice place to have their kids because I don’t pasture it.

“There’s a mule doe who has twins every year and a whitetail doe who has twins every year,” she said. “They are quite mature and they like to hang around the house. The mule deer was in the yard yesterday standing outside the window and when I put the shade up she acted like she was waiting for me. They think the house is my territory and the rest is theirs.”

Like many Montana land owners, Baker worried about what would happen to the land and wildlife after she dies. The conservation easement was Baker’s solution. She went to the Gallatin Valley Land Trust for help.

Baker’s easement will be the first created by the private, non-profit organization since it was formed last fall, although the local land trust is working on several other easements, director Chris Boyd said.

“We help her get the easement in place and will monitor it, checking the property at least once a year, to make sure all the restrictions on the land are met,” he said.

Boyd tried to help Baker look into the future when they wrote the restrictions that would preserve her property the way she wanted it and protect the wildlife as much as possible.

That’s why future owners of the property will not be allowed to own a cat. “There can’t be cats because of the chipmunks,” she said. “The cats catch chipmunks and I value the little animals as much as I do the big ones. That’s how I lost all my chipmunks except one.”

Trying to guess what may be happening on and around the land “forever” is an intimidating thought, Boyd said. “It’s really hard to imagine,” he said. “It conjures up just years and years and years of responsibility that the land is managed the way the landowner wanted it to be.

“My only consolation is that we’ve worked with a number of experts in the field to come up with an easement that is flexible, but represents her wishes for the future of the land,” Boyd said.

With Baker’s property, they created a homesite zone around her house. The zone will allow the future owners of the land to live there and expand or change the house as they need to, while the rest of the property remains undisturbed. The easement’s restrictions carry on, no matter who the future owner of the land is.

“She wants people there,” Boyd said. “She has the feeling that with people on the property, there won’t be vandalism and the cows that get in can be chased off.”