By Kate Burnaby Wright Travelers for Open Land

The appeal of Big Sky is legendary. Celebrities, athletes, outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe find their way to this small area in southwest Montana, drawn by the spectacular open lands, extensive trails and world-class waters.

Gov. Steve Bullock officially recognized July 2016 as Montana Open Land Month, and in his letter marking the occasion wrote, “…Open spaces not only provide for vast scenic viewing and healthy wildlife populations but also contribute overwhelmingly to Montana’s tourism, agriculture and outdoor recreation industries. Montanans take great pride in our outdoor heritage—a legacy we are entrusted with and must safeguard for future generations.”

Now, a growing network of local businesses has found a new way to help support the future of Big Sky. These businesses are making it simple for their customers to make small contributions, allowing anyone and everyone to contribute to the protection of this incredible place.

Step Up for Open Land is an initiative benefitting three local nonprofits: Big Sky Community Organization, Gallatin River Task Force and Travelers for Open Land. Together, they work to protect what some consider the triumvirate of an outdoor mecca: fun trails, beautiful rivers and spectacular open lands.

The way it works is simple: as you pay your bill, you add a dollar—or whatever you’re moved to contribute—to the cause. The mechanism varies, depending on the model: some businesses invite you to add a donation to your ticket; some add a contribution line on your credit card receipt (similar to tipping); and some provide a donation box for customers to drop spare bills.

“Small gifts add up,” said Kristin Gardner, executive director of the Gallatin River Task Force. “When customers contribute, their generosity makes an impact.”

In 2015, the effort raised over $11,000, and each nonprofit received a check for $3,620.

“We deeply appreciate the initiative, leadership and vision of the businesses that participated last year,” said Mike Scholz, a founder of the statewide nonprofit Travelers for Open Land which helps fund private conservation land easements across Montana, along with the 12 members of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “It’s exciting to see support grow.”

Participating businesses include Big Sky Resort, Roxy’s Market, Lone Mountain Ranch, Buck’s T-4 and others.

Launched in July 2015 as part of Montana Open Land Month, this year Step Up for Open Land (formerly known as “Round Up for Open Land”) runs from National Trails Day on June 4 through Public Lands Day on Sept. 24.

Ciara Wolfe, Executive Director of the Big Sky Community Organization, says she’s looking forward to seeing the program grow.

“While people are here recreating, they get the opportunity to experience this special place and quickly recognize how incredible this community is,” Wolfe said. “Dropping a dollar or two toward protecting this experience for future generations is meaningful and costs less than a cup of coffee.”

Businesses interested in joining Step Up can contact Mike Scholz at (406) 539-1882. Visit for more information on Open Land Month.

Participating Big Sky businesses

Big Sky Resort
Lone Mountain Ranch
Roxy’s Market
Buck’s T-4 Lodge
Consignment Cabin
Wild Trout Outfitters
Jake’s Horses
Ace Hardware Store
Gallatin Alpine Sports
Big Sky Arts Council