It's easy to take our community's “livability” for granted when you are, in fact, living here – going to work, raising your family, and sneaking in dog walks and powder days between February arctic spells. While we may begrudgingly admit it to visitors and newcomers, the secret is out: Bozeman is widely recognized as a great place to live. We continually get placed in the top rankings in national surveys from such sources as Sunset Magazine to, from Outside Magazine to National Geographic.

A common theme in these surveys is our world-class outdoor recreation and ample access to trails and public lands. These abundant recreational opportunities are no accident – it takes foresight, innovation, and initiative to protect and improve our open spaces, trails and recreational opportunities in the face of rapid growth and changing demographics.

If you peek behind the curtain of how our parks and trails come to be, you might find some surprises that give us entirely new things to be proud of. Three recent examples demonstrate how big-picture, community-minded and unusual collaborations push our town above the rest, propelling us forward with world-class trails, outstanding human services and a lasting small-town ethic.

The first example takes us straight to the emergency room. Besides being an award-winning medical facility and Gallatin County's largest private employer, Bozeman Deaconess Health Services (BDHS) also owns a large tract of land slated for development. This summer, BDHS worked with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) and City of Bozeman, along with hundreds of volunteers, to develop more than five miles of new single-track trail on their yet-to-be-developed land, offering a quiet retreat just minutes from downtown. This unique partnership allows the more than 1,300 employees of BDHS – along with thousands of patients, neighbors, and every Bozeman citizen – to run, walk, bike and ski for optimum health while enjoying unparalleled views. Trails for cross-country skiing are groomed by the Bridger Ski Foundation.

Another extraordinary partnership emerged organically when the Gallatin Valley Land Trust and HAVEN were looking at the same piece of land just north of Bozeman Pond. GVLT was interested in the land to expand Bozeman Pond Park and create important trail connections in a densely populated and fast-growing part of town. HAVEN was interested in the land as a location for a new secure shelter facility to serve families affected by domestic abuse.

Rather than competing against one another, HAVEN and GVLT teamed up to buy the land. GVLT purchased the property and sold a portion to HAVEN for a new shelter. The rest will be purchased by the city of Bozeman with funding from the Trails, Open Space and Parks Bond. By joining forces, the project saves costs in both the acquisition and development of the land, all while making a huge community impact by creating safe spaces for our families, elevating awareness of relationship violence, and protecting open space in the dense northwest neighborhood.

Bozeman Pond happens to be the park where the most off-leash citations are issued to dog owners. Seeing a need to work with dog owners in positive ways, Bozeman Parks and Recreation teamed up with community partners and businesses to create Lend-A-Leash stations at parks and trails. Dog owners can borrow leashes and the stations serve as a reminder to keep dogs under control. Dee-O-Gee signed on to donate the leashes, GVLT installed the stations at 28 trailheads, and Run Dog Run maintains the stations. Although not a perfect fix to every unruly dog (or disobedient dog owner), this collaboration brings a positive message, community awareness and self-policing measure to a common complaint in our trail network.

Not every town is as lucky as we are to have such unique collaborations working to better the community. This factor can't be measured in a “livability” survey and may be more extraordinary than our outdoor recreation. Our community is stronger and healthier because of these effective partnerships and innovative efforts, all with an eye toward the greater good.

Kelly Pohl helps to create trails and design conservation projects as the associate director for the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.