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A local land trust and Bozeman Health are partnering to build a new half-mile trail on the east end of town in an effort to enhance outdoor access and promote health and wellness.

“It’s not long, but it’s super beneficial,” said EJ Porth, associate director for the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “Sometimes all it takes is opening up a half-mile trail with a gate to get people to go outside.”

GVLT and Bozeman Health are calling the new segment a “Wellness Trail,” in part because it will be a safe connector for the more than 2,000 people who use Gallatin Mental Health Center services annually, according to the land trust.

Once complete, the new segment will link a 4.5 mile network of trails around the Highland Glen Nature Preserve with Haggerty Lane. The trail corridor skirts the mental health center and residential and commercial neighborhoods, including some affordable housing units.

Wellness Trail

A map showing the planned route for the Wellness Trail, a development planned in partnership between the Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Bozeman Health.

Even small barriers can prevent people from taking advantage of local trails, Porth said.

The new trail will mean patients at the mental health center won’t have to walk along Haggerty Lane and Ellis Street to reach the Highland Glen trail system. Instead, they’ll have a direct route from the health center campus.

Porth anticipated construction on the new trail would begin this spring and finish by the end of summer. GVLT worked with a number of private landowners, in addition to the health system and city of Bozeman, to clarify trail easements along the route.

The trail is estimated to cost approximately $47,000, according to GVLT. The land trust, Bozeman Health, city of Bozeman, Gianforte Family Foundation, Sanderson Stewart, Gallatin Association of Realtors, National Association of Realtors, AMB West Philanthropies, Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply and One Valley Community Foundation all contributed funding.

Wellness Trail

Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Bozeman Health have partnered to create a new half-mile trail to connect the Highland Glen Nature Preserve to the Gallatin Mental Health Center and the surrounding residential area.

It will be important for people to keep their dogs on leashes, clean up after their pets and be courteous to other trail users once the wellness trail opens, Porth said.

“Trails are where community happens,” she said. “This is about removing barriers to access. This is about equity.”

Jason Smith, chief advancement officer for Bozeman Health, said it’s amazing what can happen when three organizations come together with a common vision.

Gallatin Mental Health Center wanted an opportunity to provide patients with better care, GVLT wanted to improve access to Highland Glen and Bozeman Health was eager to partner with them, he said.

“While it took us a while to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, it’s that collaboration that makes our communities so special,” Smith said.

Bozeman Health and GVLT have been designing and constructing the trail system around Highland Glen for years thanks to a 2013 land use agreement. The agreement between the health system, land trust and city was renewed for five years in 2018.

Bozeman Health owns more than 500 acres east of Highland Boulevard and it holds that land in trust for the long term benefit of the community, Smith explained.

“There’s a direct relationship between being outside, connecting with nature and being and staying healthy,” he said. To facilitate that, the health system partnered with GVLT and Gallatin Mental Health Center several years ago to deliver a Trails Prescription Program, also known as TrailsRx.

Wellness Trail

Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Bozeman Health have partnered to create a new half-mile trail to connect the Highland Glen Nature Preserve to the Gallatin Mental Health Center and the surrounding residential area.

Members of Bozeman Health’s primary care team prescribe hiking time as part of solutions for patients who need increased physical activity, social connection and fresh air, Smith said.

“One of the greatest assets we have in the Gallatin Valley are the trails networks and the National Forest access and the rivers and streams that define so much of what makes this community special,” he said.

To promote more time outside, Bozeman Health and partners in 2019 launched a campaign called #OutdoorHealthyLife. People are invited to take photos of themselves in nature and post them to social media using the hashtag, according to Smith.

“The reality is we want to see less of our community, and to do that, they need to be healthier,” he said.

The world is working its way through two pandemic-driven crises affecting physical and respiratory health and behavioral health, Smith said. Levels of stress, anxiety and depression are at record highs in many areas across the country, he said.

“We know that being outside, connecting with nature, taking good care of our physical selves through exercise are all important contributors to mental wellbeing,” Smith said. “Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been fortunate in the Gallatin Valley and southwest Montana to have careful but unfettered access to trails networks and our open spaces.”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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