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When my kids were toddlers and were starting to squirm out of their kid backpacks to hike on their own, the Middle Cottonwood Trail became one of our favorite trails for a family outing. Only a short ride from our house, the trail is relatively flat for the first mile and meanders next to a creek and through a beautiful mix of mature forest, open grassy slopes and rocky outcroppings. In the spring, the creek is rushing, glacier lilies line the trail corridor, and there is always the possibility of spotting interesting birds and wildlife. And just when the kids needed a break, we’d scramble up to a nice lunch spot with spectacular views.

After I started visiting the trail more regularly, I noticed that a particularly beautiful section of the trail crossed a private property for nearly a half-mile. Several years later, that 160-acre parcel was listed for sale, along with development plans that showed significant impacts to wildlife habitat and trail access. It became clear that one of our community’s favorite trailheads was at risk.

For several years, Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) had been strategizing about how to protect key properties like this one, and I knew we were in a position to help. Last spring, GVLT started reaching out to our local community about this project, and it didn’t take long to generate interest. Partners have always been at the core of GVLT’s work, and this project had unique community benefits that allowed us to engage with 30 project partners and friends, many of them new to the organization. The partners included local outdoor businesses such as SITKA Gear and onX, conservation groups such as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, as well as numerous private donors and foundations. In addition, the Skogen family, who owned the land, recognized the property’s unique conservation values and were willing to work with GVLT to help achieve a conservation outcome.

Last month, GVLT purchased the 160-acre property and extinguished the remaining development rights. Purchasing the property will perpetually protect the trail corridor and surrounding wildlife habitat from residential and commercial development. The community will now have access to all 160 acres of the highly scenic parcel. In the next few years, the property will be incorporated into our local national forest and become part of our public lands.

This project is a great example of what can be accomplished when diverse partners work together around a shared vision. We are lucky to live in such a collaborative, solutions-oriented community. There are more opportunities like this out there, and we know that the partnerships built through this project will help us to protect more special places in the Gallatin Valley.

My kids are older now, and I often struggle to keep up with them as they sprint ahead on the trails. On a recent spring day, we headed to Middle Cottonwood for a hike, and it did not disappoint. The sun was shining, wildflowers were blooming and two golden eagles circled as we walked up the trail. When we reached the spot where the trail crosses onto private property, it was satisfying to know that this place would not be changing anytime soon. Thank you to the Skogen family and to all of the project partners that helped make this happen. I feel proud of our community for coming together to protect such a special place.

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Brendan Weiner is the lands program director at the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.