Op-ed: Celebrate Montana’s open land
By Jessie Wiese EBS Contributor
Montana is the stuff dreams are made of; movies for that matter too, and lots of them. People flock here to experience the state’s dramatic beauty and enjoy recreating in its relatively untouched landscape. And they find pristine rivers and creeks, snow-capped mountains and unspoiled nature around every turn.
Those of us lucky enough to call Montana home are well adjusted to the generous backdrop afforded by our state. Easy access to open land is one reason most of us moved or stayed here. There is a single thread running through all aspects of our state and our experiences in it: open land.
As Montana’s population grows, and as more travelers visit from elsewhere, it’s increasingly important to acknowledge and publicize both the social and economic benefits that Montana’s open lands provide us.
With Gallatin County’s growth rate far exceeding any other in the state, and Bozeman recently ranked sixth for growth in micro-cosmopolitan communities nationwide, change is upon us. Neighboring Yellowstone National Park boasts more than 4 million visitors per year.
As Gov. Steve Bullock put it during a recent speech in Big Sky on open lands, “They ain’t coming for our Wal-Marts.”
Land is the most valuable resource we have. It feeds us, filters our air, keeps our water clean, and provides recreation, timber, and habitat for us and other animals.
Here in Big Sky, the economic drivers are clear. Visitors come to our community to enjoy and ultimately appreciate our open lands. From dropping a fly in the Gallatin River or skiing a steep slope on Lone Mountain, to just taking in the view, the Montana lifestyle revolves around protected open space.
Open lands increase our community’s health and emotional wellbeing by providing opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation. They attract businesses to our communities, augmenting our collective quality of life. The Trust for Public Land found that every dollar invested in land conservation provides an economic return of $4 to $10.
Bozeman’s Headwaters Economics demonstrated that community proximity to open land attracts talent and entrepreneurs to communities like ours across the state. Big Sky is nestled between two large wilderness areas and within 16 miles of Yellowstone’s boundary. If it’s all about location, we’ve got it.
Montana’s land trusts are national leaders in land conservation, and a dozen work across the state. The Montana Land Reliance alone has protected nearly 1 million acres in the state, and is actively working on 48 projects to protect an additional 241,187 acres. This makes MLR among the largest land trusts in the nation.
Open land is something we can all get behind. Montana Open Land Month was established to enable all Montanans—individuals, clubs, businesses, outdoor groups, you name it—to celebrate the state’s way of life and the open land that makes Montana so special. As the old adage goes, “They’re not making any more of it.”
Please join us in the celebration.
Jessie Wiese is based in Big Sky and is the southwest manager of Montana Land Reliance. Visit mtlandreliance.org and openlandmt.org to learn more about land conservation and Montana Open Land Month.