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There’s a lot of meaning in the unnamed coulee that winds through the Highland Glen Nature Preserve for John Hill, president and CEO of Bozeman Health.

Hill has found inspiration on walks near the preserve’s small stream, old homestead and barn. He’s made key decisions there, like decisions to expand the health system and prioritize behavioral health services.

On Wednesday morning, Hill stood at the north end of the preserve alongside staff from Bozeman Health, the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, the city of Bozeman and other partners who contributed to the development of a new Wellness Trail.

Brianne Rogers, Bozeman Health’s consultant for land use agreements, cut a blue ribbon over the half-mile connector trail, which starts at Haggerty Lane and brushes past the Gallatin Mental Health Center.

“I would invite you, if you ever have a significant decision, come right here,” Hill said before a small group of project partners. “All the inspiration is available to you, and what a great gift it has been to me.”

The new trail segment is short, but it’s a critical connection between Bozeman’s Main Street to the Mountains trail network and 4.5 miles of trails in the Highland Glen Nature Preserve, according to GVLT.

Wellness trail

A new wellness trail east of Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital crosses an unnamed coulee and cuts across a hill at the Highland Glen Nature Preserve. The trail loops near area neighborhoods, including an affordable housing complex along Haggerty Lane.

For the over 2,000 people who use services at the Gallatin Mental Health Center annually, and for people in the neighborhoods and businesses off of Haggerty Lane, the new path will offer safer and more direct access to nearby trails, the land trust wrote in a news release.

Chet Work, executive director of GVLT, said opening the Wellness Trail allows patients at the Mental Health Center better access nature’s medicine at Highland Glen. While Work wished the trail could have been completed at the onset of the pandemic, he’s glad it’s here now.

“During this pandemic, there’s probably been no greater need than mental health and that connection to the outdoors,” he said. “I think we’ve all either been personally struggling with mental health or we’ve had one degree of separation from someone who is struggling with mental health.”

Bozeman Health owns the land that makes up the Highland Glen Nature Preserve. In 2012, the health system partnered with GVLT to offer public access to the 450 acre property. GVLT has helped to design, construct and maintain the trails there, and the Bridger Ski Foundation grooms the trails in the winter.

The health system leases the land to Vaughn Kraft, a long-time local farmer who stewards the fields there, and rancher Darrell Kurk, who runs cattle throughout the property, according to Hill.

Now that the new trail is open, GVLT is urging members of the public who like to ride the preserve’s single-track trails, run through them or go on quiet walks to respect the agricultural use there and local wildlife. People should always leash and clean up after their dogs and be courteous to other trail users, the land trust wrote in its news release.

It cost approximately $47,000 to build the Wellness Trail. Donors included GVLT, Bozeman Health, Gianforte Family Foundation, Gallatin Association of Realtors, National Association of Realtors, AMB West Philanthropies, First Security Bank, Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply and the One Valley Community Foundation.

The city’s COVID-19 relief funds also went toward the project, according to Work. Sanderson Stewart helped to design the trail and secure proper permits, and Wildwood Trails, Inc., helped with construction, including a wooden bridge that crosses over the coulee.

The Wellness Trail reflects GVLT’s commitment to equity and providing underserved people with access to the outdoors. Making sure that trails are accessible for all is one of the land trust’s goals, according to Work.

Wellness trail

Bozeman City Manager Jeff Mihelich introduces talks about the city's role in the construction of a new wellness trail at the Highland Glen Nature Preserve on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Partners on the trail project included the city of Bozeman, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Bozeman Health and a number of consultants and donors.

Jeff Mihelich, Bozeman’s city manager, noted that the new trail skirts right by an affordable housing project along Haggerty Lane.

“Unfortunately, some trail systems in other parts of the United States only go into the very rural areas or lead into the wealthy areas, and I think GVLT, the city of Bozeman, Bozeman Health and other partners are making sure our trail systems get to all places within the city,” he said.

Mihelich added that when the city received money from the federal government to deal with the pandemic, it decided to put much of it back into the community by helping small businesses and contributing to the work that local nonprofits were doing.

“What we learned very quickly is that the people who were inside their homes for many, many months, struggling and missing their friends and colleagues — they found some solace by getting out into the trail network,” he said. “We decided to invest our small part into this project and others.”

Hill said the Wellness Trail and Highland Glen property are gifts to the city at large, but they are also gifts to Bozeman Health employees and leadership. For health care workers, taking walks on the trails near the hospital is an incredible asset, and the respite that comes with nature is part of their healing journey.

“If you’ve spent much time here, hopefully you’ve seen members of a medical staff — a nurse, a respiratory therapist — walking on these trails while they have been experiencing one of the most incredible times in health care history,” he said.

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

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