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The hill with ‘a lot of meaning’

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Burke Parks where the new parcel meets the current park boundary. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

Peets’ Final Piece looks to expand beloved Bozeman park

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – On any given winter day, but particularly after a fresh dusting of snow, hordes of children and adults alike fly down Peets Hill one after another on brightly colored sleds, rectangles of cardboard, Tupperware lids and skis. After the adrenaline tapers and the passengers hop off their rides, they’ll jump to their feet and rush up the incline to do it all over again, a continuous loop until exhaustion or hunger sets in.

Much like the cyclical athleticism involved in traversing the community’s beloved park, the proprietor of Burke Park is now working on closing the loop on the historic space’s evolution. 

With the chance to purchase 12 contiguous acres on the park’s southern boundary, the Gallatin Valley Land Trust is now asking for the help of the community to raise the $1.6 million needed to secure the sale and fund park upgrades. They have until January to reach their goal.

Chet Work, GVLT’s executive director, calls this opportunity a “full circle” for the nonprofit organization, and “the start of what we hope is a new era for GVLT.”

It’s a circle that began in 1892 when GVLT founder Chris Boyd, for whom a portion of the trail system within the park is named, negotiated the purchase of the park’s existing 41 acres. Before Boyd’s intervention, the land was plotted for 612 homes, a development with the intention of making the sleepy town of Bozeman appear bigger and more attractive to business owners.

A Bozeman Daily Chronicle newspaper clipping from an unknown date shows Peets Hill and Al Albelin, one of many residents who advocated to protect the original 41 acres from development when the landowner at the time, Ed Burke Sr. decided to sell. PHOTO BY LYNN ISRAEL COURTESY OF THE GALLATIN HISTORY MUSEUM

Today’s sale, with the breakneck speed of real estate and development in the valley, looks a bit different. The 12 private acres were listed by the owner in early July. After missing out on an initial offer, Work said the landowner reached out to GVLT after the original buyer, a developer, had fallen through, giving the organization a couple days to organize a plan for securing the purchase—a window that is not usually granted to land trusts.

On Aug 27, GVLT launched a robust fundraising campaign, “Peets’ Final Piece.” Although the land itself cost $1.2 million, Work says GVLT’s goal of $1.6 million includes the cost of planned trail upgrades, benches, overlooks, possible ADA accessibility upgrades and staffing. 

If successful, GVLT plans to transfer ownership of the parcel to the City of Bozeman, which will be better situated to maintain it, Work says. With the possibility of working with some larger donors—the Mysun charitable foundation has already pledged to match all gifts between $1,000 and $15,000 up to $50,000—they’ll reevaluate their need near the end of September.

“Beyond a dog park or a walking place [Burke Park] has a lot of meaning to people,” Work said. “I think that it’s very personal to this community and I think that the major donors that have engaged with us so far have reflected on that.”

“I’m amazed by the excitement of this project,” Work continued. “Our hope is that it opens the eyes to the community of the value of having a well-funded, well-staffed, talented land trust to keep our ear to the ground and get in front of these.” 

To understand the importance of Peets Hill to the community of Bozeman, it helps to take a look back at its former uses. John M. Peets, for whom the prominent hill at the north end of the park is named, was an early Gallatin Valley resident, grocer and dairy farmer. It is rumored that the white warming hut at the bottom of the hill was where Peets would store feed for his dairy cows. John’s son, Earl, took over his father’s dairy business, but was forced to close after a typhoid outbreak negatively impacted the valley’s economy. Earl offered to donate the 40 acres to the City of Bozeman, but unconvinced that the town’s population would ever reach that far, the city declined.

A year later, Capt. Edmund Burke Jr., at once Gallatin County attorney and a member of the Montana Legislature, bought the land and although the Burke family used it as a horse pasture, people continued to sled, run, bike and walk their dogs in the open space.

Today, Burke Park and Peets Hill, once slated for 612 homes, is now the most popular trail in GVLT’s Main Street to Mountains trail system, home to 220 species of plants as well as local wildlife including fox, deer and raptors, and a sanctuary for local recreationists, including nearby hospital workers and residents of the neighboring Knolls assisted living facility. Work says he has even heard of people getting engaged up there.

Preserving these coveted open spaces is becoming more of a challenge for organizations like GVLT, Work says, and in order compete with developers, the land trust must be able to respond to offers within 24 hours, and have full market value on hand—a near impossibility right now.

“Our goal is to grow ourselves to an organization that can be reactive at least in securing the most important properties in this county, regardless of how quickly the market is working,” Work said.

Working to secure this parcel, Work asserts, is right at the core of GVLT’s mission to acquire and conserve habitat and trails. Since their inception in 1990, the land trust has secured 50,000 acres of land, and not without the help of the community.

“We’re really excited about [Peet’s Final Piece] and our board and staff are really hopeful,” Work said. “We have confidence that we can do this, but that really depends on the community.”

You can donate to Peets’ Final Piece at gvlt.org/in-pursuit-of-peets-hill/. If you’re interested in making a leadership level gift, contact Justin Barth at justin@gvlt.org. The Mysun Charitable Foundation will be matching donations of $1,000-$15,000 for Peets Hill up to $50,000.

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