By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Gov. Steve Bullock this year declared July “Open Land Month” in Montana, a concept designed to honor the wild and beautiful places that bring residents, visitors and businesses to The Treasure State. Big Sky is taking it a step further.

An area group is leading a month-long initiative to raise money for three nonprofit organizations dedicated to three separate missions that support open space: trails, waterways and open lands conservation.

The “Round Up for Open Land” initiative offers customers at approximately 30 Big Sky businesses the opportunity to either round up their purchase and leave a donation on credit card slips, or drop financial gifts in donation boxes at participating establishments.

Proceeds from the initiative will benefit Big Sky Community Corp. for trails; Gallatin River Task Force for waterways; and Travelers for Open Land for its efforts in open lands conservation.

“It’s an initiative that came out of Big Sky itself. They get it,” said Kate Burnaby Wright, a consultant with Travelers for Open Land who participated in the first conversation for the initiative, along with Buck’s T-4 Managing Partner Mike Scholz, and Montana Association of Land Trusts Executive Director Glenn Marx. “The beauty and the wildness of [open land] fuels Big Sky’s economy.”

This open land use funds the statewide economy as well, and a number of events this month aim to foster more awareness about Montana’s natural landscape, according to a Travelers for Open Land press release.

“From the Red Ants Pants Music Festival on the fourth weekend of July to the Governor’s Cup Walleye Tournament on July 9-11 … Montana Open Land Month offers a chance to celebrate the natural features that make Montana special.”

Locally, the Arts Council of Big Sky is helping spread the word about the Round Up for Open Land initiative at its Music in the Mountains concerts every Thursday, and an op-ed piece published by the Missoulian newspaper declared that open lands are in Montanans’ blood.

“If you look at Montana and our way of life,” Wright said, “the activities we enjoy, the economics [of] agriculture, tourism, [and] the business community we’re attracting – all the people who live here and visit benefit from open lands.”