Those of us who live in the Gallatin Valley are a lucky lot. We enjoy an unparalleled quality of life in this special place we call home. With easy access to our nation’s first national park, two top-notch ski areas, national forest lands, and countless rivers and streams, we’re surrounded by opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Raised in Bozeman, my childhood memories are filled with days enjoying the clean, cool water of our local rivers and streams. I learned to fish those waters with my dad who owned a fly shop and guided these rivers for clients who traveled from around the world to fish here. In those places, I also learned important life lessons about patience, perseverance and responsibility.

The Madison, the Gallatin, the East Gallatin and numerous streams throughout Gallatin County provide drinking water for our communities, irrigation to grow food and habitat for our beloved trout. When we work together to protect these resources, we all win.

I grew up steeped in our outdoor traditions and learned at a young age how blessed we are to live in this place. The secret is out and our community is growing, and growing fast. In fact, Gallatin County is the fastest-growing county in Montana and one of the fastest growing in the country. The quality of life and outdoor amenities are drawing both people and investment dollars, making this the best place in Montana to find a quality job. That growth also presents challenges, as development puts pressure on our land and water resources.

We’ve all seen Bozeman and the rest of the county grow and change. While I accept change as a reality and welcome the economic opportunities that accompany this growth, I also feel strongly that we need to plan for the future in order to protect our quality of life. Development in the wrong places will diminish our scenic views, increase erosion, and negatively impact fisheries through sedimentation, warmer water and lower stream flows. We need to invest in efforts to conserve, protect and restore our world-class coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.

For the past 17 years the Gallatin County Open Lands Program has done just that. By funding conservation easements with willing landowners, the program is helping to protect our blue ribbon trout streams. Lands under conservation easement are eligible for additional conservation and restoration projects that protect water quality, conserve fish habitat and preserve the scenic quality of our area.

As the president of our local Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited chapter, I’ve seen good work done by numerous organizations including Gallatin Valley Land Trust. Over the last three years, they have planted several thousand willows, cottonwoods and other deciduous vegetation along streams. That restoration work to enhance streambank vegetation on private lands under conservation easement reduces siltation that damages trout spawning habitat, provides shade to keep the water cool on those hot summer days, and ensures secure wildlife habitat for birds and ungulates.

The Gallatin County Open Lands Program has a proven track record of success, but funds for the program have all been expended. It’s time to renew our commitment to this program and our future. Doing so will ensure we afford our children and grandchildren the same opportunities I enjoyed as a kid growing up in this special place.

Kris Kumlien is president of the local Madison-Gallatin Chapter of Trout Unlimited.