Open Land, Full of Memories: Fairy Tale Ending for Bozeman Pass Open Space

The iconic openness of Montana could be interpreted by some as empty. But for Jerry Miller, his family’s undeveloped 462 acre property near Bozeman Pass is full; full of memories, full of wildlife, and full of promise and potential.

Jerry and his sister, Caron, grew up on the property, trekking from their house to the one room school in the long forgotten coal town of Chestnut, just off the Trail Creek exit on I-90.  Jerry and his sister, along with Jimmy and June Brooks, descendants of long-term Chestnut residents, were the only consistent students in the school that fluctuated from four to eleven students.  Jerry’s father, born at Chestnut in 1898, as well as uncles, Carl and Harry, and two aunts, had attended a Chestnut school that was torn down in the 40’s.  Harry was the original Miller of the Bozeman staple, Miller’s Jewelry.  Carl and his family also owned bordering property on Trail Creek.

The property is rich with Miller family stories and treasures. The family often refers to a once treacherous curve that was at one time the site of a saloon bordering the “dry” coal town of Storrs, as Whiskey Point.  Still visible are remnants of the 10 mile long Turkey Trail Railroad that served coal towns on Trail Creek around the turn of the century.  A 1949 Dodge, purchased new by Jerry’s dad, sits rusted out in a field.  Nearby are the remains of a “Fluid Drive” 1948 Plymouth that burned out while the family was trying to get home in a snowstorm.  Pieced together over years beginning in the 1920’s, the property’s gulches, streams, and meadows bear names of earlier settlers.

The property has been a longtime home to many more than just the Millers.  Moose, elk, bear, and deer have all been on the property, using it as part of a larger connectivity corridor from the Gallatin Mountains to the Bangtails.

Now that Jerry and his sister have moved away, they decided in collaboration with children and adult grandchildren, that it was necessary to sell the property. It wasn’t a task they were excited about doing. The property remained one of the largest non-developed parcels in the area, just 15 minutes from bustling downtown Bozeman.  With the growing development pressure in the Gallatin Valley, the Millers were concerned about the long term future of the property.  They were hoping for an outcome that would allow the property to stay open and intact, protecting the habitat and scenic quality of the land, while also possibly providing trails and access for the public to enjoy. Before putting the property on the market, they reached out to the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) to explore options. GVLT also saw its potential and importance in the Bozeman Pass landscape. Program Director Brendan Weiner reached out to a number of partners, landowners, and donors who shared a conservation ethic as potential buyers of the property, and he found a match. The Jarvis family had completed a conservation easement with GVLT in 2015 and wanted to do more to protect the landscape they loved. GVLT facilitated meetings between the parties, and with a leap of faith, the Miller family sold the property to the Jarvis family on a handshake agreement that they would place a conservation easement on the property and explore options for trails and public access in the future. In December 2016 the Jarvis family partnered with GVLT on the fully donated conservation easement.  It was a win- win-win for all.

The Millers now have peace of mind that their property, and their family’s memories and legacy, will remain intact forever.  Jerry noted “At the first meeting it was obvious to my wife, Jeri Lynn, and I that Mark was a person who not only had the financial ability, but the expertise and deep commitment to the environment to make this happen.  Without the personal caring and commitment of GVLT staff, this never could have been accomplished.  To have this outcome for something that has been a part of our family history for so long, has allowed selling to be a joyful occasion rather than a time of grieving. It’s the best outcome our families could have hoped for”.

The Jarvis’ now have an exceptional and unique property that they can enjoy and share with the community.

And GVLT was able to do what it does best; connect people who care about this place to help protect it for future generations. This project was particularly special as it brought GVLT’s 26 years of work full circle. The property is GVLT’s 101st easement and is adjacent to the organization’s first conservation easement, the Baker Property, and dozens of nearby conservations easements in the Bozeman Pass, Bridger Canyon area. Not only is this new easement adjacent to conserved land, it is also adjacent to public lands and trails that may provide connectivity in the future.  GVLT’s local relationships and knowledge of the landscape helped create a fairytale ending for the land, the wildlife, the families, and the community.