Guest column: Setting the direction for our community’s future

By Bill Cochran for Bozeman Daily Chronicle

September 10, 2022

Our community’s rapid growth has highlighted the need for the Gallatin Valley Land Trust to evaluate our impact and to set a strategic direction for our future. The challenges our community faces are daunting but opportunities for new trails and conservation gains are equally inspiring. The window of time for action is narrow and the resources are finite. We must be focused. As the Board Chair of GVLT, I’m proud to share the highlights of the organization’s new five year strategic plan.

For 32 years, GVLT’s mission has always been trails and conservation. With our community, landowners, and partners, we have provided access to nature, connected neighborhoods, maintained productive farms and ranches, protected wildlife habitat, secured clean water and sustained our citizens’ physical and mental health. Together these successes provide ecological sustainability, economic stability, and social connectedness. Our shared and preserved spaces support the well-being of our growing community.

When we convened our board, staff and NextGen Advisory Board to set our course for the next five years, it became clear that we do not need to change what we do, we just need to do more of it.

Gallatin County remains one of the fastest growing in the state, and Bozeman continues to rank near the top of growing cities of its size in the country. Our quality of life is at risk unless we can meet that pace with land conservation and trail development. Thanks to our 30 + years of investment from supporters and volunteers, GVLT has deep land management and transaction expertise, extensive knowledge of trail design and maintenance, and a historical capacity to deliver on-the-ground conservation and trail projects. We are uniquely positioned to address challenges, and embrace opportunities presented by growth. Our history and focus on the mission provide a sound foundation, but we must be dynamic to adapt to our rapidly changing landscape, climate, and community needs.

Our plan calls for a tripling of our pace of conservation, 25,000 acres in the next 5 years. This will allow us to better serve our farmers and rancher neighbors, support their operations, help them stay on the land and in turn, keep the land in the rural parts of our valley scenic and open. Our planning process also elevated the high-quality and threatened conservation values in the Paradise Valley. We will deepen our investment in Park County by adding a dedicated staff person to work with interested farmers and ranchers there. Where appropriate we will lend our real estate tools and expertise to help our nonprofit and government partners with other pressing community needs and opportunities like we did last year at Peets Hill. Our commitment to the perpetual stewardship of the conservation values on our current portfolio of 120 easements remains a key focus and working to assist our landowners to enhance their properties is part of that.

Over the next five years, our trails program will complete three flagship projects to increase access to nature and provide places for all people to enjoy the benefits of being outside. We will also complete 12 critical connections in our in-town trail system, ensuring that everyone can move safely from their homes to schools, work, parks, and community centers. We’ll seize the opportunities of new developments by supporting our partners and developers with trail planning so that our system stays connected, even as it grows. We will continue maintaining trails with our partners so that they are safe and enjoyable, and we will focus on promoting responsible use on the trails through the Outside Kind etiquette campaign and Trail Ambassador program. While most of our trail work will focus on the area in and around Bozeman, the ‘Triangle’ area between Bozeman, Belgrade and Four Corners, and the foothills of the Bridger and Gallatin ranges north and south of town, special attention will be paid to areas that are currently underserved by existing parks and trails.

There’s more I could share, but I hope these things inspire you as they have our board and staff. We are grateful to all who have supported GVLT since 1990, and we humbly request your support as we move forward on these goals for our community.

Read the original article here.