Support Local Journalism


It’s obvious that Bozeman and Gallatin County are growing. But the question isn’t how to stop it, it’s how to manage it.

Rapid growth in population is stressing the natural and built environment, and officials at a Montana State University panel Friday said collaboration between the city, county and other jurisdictions is becoming increasingly important.

The results of the 2020 Census revealed that Gallatin County led the state in population growth, making it the second largest county. With a reported population of 53,293, Bozeman also passed the threshold to become a metropolitan area, which opens more grant opportunities for the city.

Bozeman Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham, Gallatin County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane and community planning expert Randy Carpenter said working apart is no longer an option.

“If we have one takeaway from today’s presentation, it’s that regional cooperation and planning is vital in order to meet the future challenges of growth in Gallatin County,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham called the county a good “convener,” saying it’s able to look at the big picture and pull together different groups to work together.

MacFarlane listed ways local governments are already working together on work like emergency response and an effort to build housing on county land near the Gallatin Rest Home.

Gallatin County, Bozeman and Belgrade, for example, are also working on regional water and wastewater planning. There is also a plan to do a regional sensitive lands study to determine areas where development would have a greater impact on the environment.

“A lot of times we have in our documents that we need to recognize the impact of growth on wildlife and natural lands, but we don’t necessarily have a very explicit map or inventory of sensitive lands that we can point out to say, ‘these are our highest valued areas and we need to be really considerate about the way we grow into them,’” MacFarlane said. “That that’s going to be the goal of the sensitive land study.”

The panelists also discussed how to manage patterns of growth, with Cunningham likening keeping growth compact to pouring a pitcher of water into separate glasses rather than letting it spill and cover an entire table — in this case, the county.

Generally, growth is due to a few reasons, Carpenter said. MSU is a factor, since both in-state and out-of-state students may choose to stay in the area after graduation.

The county is also an economic hub. Over the past decade, 27% of jobs created in the state were in Gallatin County, Carpenter said. The area has been responsible for an outsized chunk of the state’s growth, Carpenter said, with the “triangle area” including Bozeman, Belgrade and Four Corners accounting for 25% of the state’s growth over the past decade.

“You heard that right. The state of Montana is 147,000 square miles. The Triangle region is 30 square miles,” Carpenter said. “And, about 25% of the entire state’s growth occurred in this tiny area relative to the rest of the state.”

Carpenter said he views local government’s job to be “relatively agnostic” about growth and rather “realize that it’s going to happen” and deal with it effectively.

Cunningham agreed.

Relaying his disappointment many years ago with a development near his home that took the place of a pasture that housed horses, Cunningham said he later met people who lived in that development who were becoming important members of the community.

“How much is too much? When does the gate slam behind us?” Cunningham said. “What type of community do we become if we put the brakes on growth and only the wealthy can afford to move here?”

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Nora Shelly can be reached at or 406-582-2607.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.