As more people arrive in Gallatin County, it’s going to get harder to hold onto the land that drew many to the area. A crowd of open space advocates asked local leaders Wednesday night how they’ll balance development with conservation.

“This valley is going to keep on growing, the wave is coming, we’re not here to stop it,” said Mark Kehke, board president of Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

He said partnerships with the community, city and county could help direct where growth happens, “or maybe, more importantly, where growth doesn’t happen.”

The Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s NextGen Advisory Board hosted the panel at The Rialto in downtown Bozeman. Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl and County Commissioner Don Seifert answered how they’ll work together as the area’s population tally ticks upwards.

In short, they said it can be tricky.

“Half of the adults in Bozeman have lived here ten years or less,” Mehl said. “We are a city in transition.”

And he said as that happens, it’s important for places caught in that growth to coordinate as they adapt and update their plans.

Seifert said government entities can’t always pick and choose projects they love. To a certain extent, if a development proposal checks off all the area’s building requirements, “we’re stuck” he said. He said preserving open space often lands on individuals.

“Those folks that want and have ties to the ground, either generational or philosophical,” he said. “It’s the dedication of the taxpayers of Gallatin County to be willing to put your money where you mouth is.”

The meeting happened as open space advocates ask county commissioners to allow voters to see a levy in spring that would raise $20 million over 15 years for Gallatin’s open lands program. Funding for the program ran out last year.

NextGen Board Chair Lauren Caselli said Wednesday’s meeting was more than getting people on board for open space.

“Most people agree that’s a good thing. You have to take people back a little bit deeper and help educate them about how it’s maintained and protected,” she said.

Board Member Noah Marion said the panel was a chance for the people in the room to realize they can influence Bozeman’s future and that their elected officials are accessible.

“A lot of us moved here,” Marion said. “We’re a mix of people that love the opportunity that a growing community provides but are also concerned that this community could lose its traditional character if growth isn’t planned well.”

The county and city leaders agreed there are no one-liners that can protect Gallatin’s agricultural heritage and wilderness’ future in the fastest growing county in the state. But they said people who are concerned need to use their voice in local government, from just showing up to meetings to joining local boards that help steer the area’s future.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 406-582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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.