By Maria Wyllie EBS Associate Editor

BOZEMAN – Approximately 260 people gathered on Aug. 22 at Mark and Nanette Kehke’s East Gallatin Preserve for the “Evening on the Land,” a biannual fundraiser hosted by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

Attendees showed up for the cause, and by the end of the night GVLT raised $250,000 for land conservation. The nonprofit grossed $75,000 more than the last “Evening on the Land” held in 2013.

“People care tremendously – people who have been here for generations and people who are new to the area – about keeping the things that make this place special intact,” said GVLT Executive Director Penelope Pierce.

A nonprofit organization based in Bozeman, GVLT works with two primary focuses: creating trails to connect people, communities and open spaces; and helping private landowners conserve their land.

The fourth fundraiser focused on the latter.

“We want to celebrate that when people work together for private land conservation, it has a really large impact beyond each [parcel of] private property,” Pierce said, adding that connecting a 40-acre parcel with another 40-acre parcel, for example, has a cumulative effect.

“Having that continuity benefits wildlife habitats as well as farming and ranching,” she said.

GVLT staff worked with the Kehkes to secure their land as a conservation easement in December 2014. Event cohosts that also gave GVLT easements along the East Gallatin River included Cowan and Skinner Ranch Company, Kathy and Tim Crawford, Elyse and Bill End, and Yucca and Gary Rieschel.

The event featured a sit down dinner with locally sourced ingredients, music by DJ Missy O’Malley, a live auction and a cash call. PHOTO BY DIANA PROEMM

The event featured a sit down dinner with locally sourced ingredients, music by DJ Missy O’Malley, a live auction and a cash call. PHOTO BY DIANA PROEMM

The event featured a sit down dinner with locally sourced ingredients, music by DJ Missy O’Malley, a live auction and a cash call. Funds raised will go toward GVLT’s land conservation program with much of it covering costs related to conservation easements such as staff time and outreach.

Cash call money will be specifically earmarked for a fund allowing GVLT to pay for option agreements, environmental assessments and appraisals, should the group need to act quickly to secure land, Pierce said.

Auction packages included uniquely Montana experiences such as helping reintroduce trumpeter swans in the Blackfoot Valley by releasing one of the birds into the wild; dinner and fly fishing with actor Michael Keaton; and a golf package featuring five private courses in southwest Montana.

“They are experiences that could only be purchased at the event because generous people opened up their homes and private ranches as auction items,” Pierce said.

The $250,000 GVLT raised represented the most money ever raised by the nonprofit at one event. Pierce attributes the leap in funds to more sponsors, creative auction packages, and foremost, generous people.

“The land, wildlife habitat, clean and healthy rivers, the agricultural heritage that define this valley – everybody values those qualities,” Pierce said. “It’s why people are coming and why people are staying.”