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On a very snowy evening this February, about 80 younger adults packed into the Rialto’s conference hall to discuss conservation. The buzz of conversation that night would have been eye opening for anyone who thinks the Gallatin Valley’s under-40 crowd is too occupied with powder days and paying their bills to care about this region’s future.

With a median age of 27, Bozeman is a young city, providing a huge opportunity for our peers to shape the region in the decades to come. That’s why it’s so heartening that the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) is committed to making sure our demographic is seen and heard in their mission of conserving open space and creating trails.

Three years ago, GVLT created the NextGen Advisory Board, a group of around 20 Millennials and Gen X-ers ages 25-40. The land trust’s mission centers around conserving land for perpetuity; NextGen’s establishment comes from the recognition that the community also needs conservation leadership in perpetuity.

We are “young” professionals working in a range of fields including higher education, agriculture, media, real estate, hospitality and technology. Each of us wonders, what can we do for this community? How can we be part of the conversation about the future of this place? And how can we broaden who is included in that conversation?

Our approach includes hosting community events, fundraising and leadership development. NextGen’s original event, the Pedal Parade, is a scavenger hunt designed to help people explore new trails and bring the community together. In addition to helping people have fun on trails, we want to be a resource for information and opportunities to be engaged in our community.

To that end we host events like the Conservation Cocktail Hour aimed at introducing our peers to a variety of perspectives related to conservation and growth. And clearly there is appetite for this information. Within a few days of posting, a waitlist formed for this free event. New residents joined established locals, eager to learn about pressing topics from conservation leaders.

We’re not interested in promoting a particular agenda. Instead, we aim to spread awareness and demonstrate the value of GVLT’s work, while providing residents of all ages the ability to shape our future. At the same time we want to listen to the community’s values (even as those change), and reflect those values back to GVLT.

Many younger adults choose to live here because they love open space, rivers and trails. Based on our experience, our demographic actively seeks opportunities to create deeper connections to this place by giving back.

By acknowledging that young people are the future of this valley, GVLT is showing leadership that any person, or group, can follow. While our style of conservation may not look familiar to everyone, the enthusiasm with which our peers engage shows that the future of conservation in the region is strong.

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Justin Barth, Liz Domenech, Sarah Keller and Katrina Stanislaw are members of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s NextGen Advisory Board.