“Do I contradict myself? Very well then. I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

— Walt Whitman

In a recent meeting with consultants working on the Gallatin County Growth Policy Update, I was reminded of this quote when I tried to describe our county with only a few words. It was challenging. We are large, 2,632 square miles. We contradict ourselves. The communities of Bozeman, Big Sky, Three Forks, Manhattan, Churchill, Belgrade, West Yellowstone, Gallatin Gateway and others are wildly different. We’re urban, we’re rural. We’re farming and we’re tech. We’re higher education, construction, hospitality and recreation. We contain multitudes; we are a patchwork fabric of a landscape balancing a remarkable history and an unfolding future. It can be challenging to formulate a sole vision for a place that contains this level of diversity, but I’m encouraged by the leadership I’ve seen within Gallatin County, its elected officials, staff, landowners, partners and residents. Growth is forcing us to reckon with our disparate visions, but it is also giving us an opportunity to unite around the values we share. While we imagine and plan our future, let us celebrate success and recognize what is working.

Since 2000, Gallatin County taxpayers have been investing in the Open Lands Program which has allowed nonprofit partners like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust and landowners to preserve working farms and ranches, wildlife habitat and our scenic open lands through the purchase of conservation easements. These conservation easements prevent fragmentation and development of working farms and ranches in perpetuity. In June of 2018, Gallatin County voters reinvested in the Open Lands Program. The renewed funding has ignited landowner interest and since then the Gallatin Valley Land Trust has already worked with landowners to conserve nearly 1,100 acres and leverage over $2 million dollars from other sources.

Most recently, GVLT partnered with the Flikkema and Kamps families to conserve four parcels totaling nearly 1,100 acres in the Amsterdam/Churchill area west of the Gallatin River. The farms contain some of the very best soil in the region, yet are situated only three miles from the rapidly developing communities of Belgrade and Four Corners. Despite their proximity to development, the Kamps Seed Farm and LF Dairy are not isolated farming operations. They are surrounded by and near 15 conserved parcels, contributing to a 6,500 acre block of conserved farmland that can never be developed. When we can conserve large blocks of contiguous land, we ensure a stable land base for agricultural operations and reduce conflict between farming and development. With vision and support from the Amsterdam and Churchill communities, and other communities across the county, we are seeing the significant impacts of strategic land conservation efforts.

High fives are in order. Thank you to the landowners in Amsterdam and Churchill, and across the county, who have donated significant development value, time and energy to keep their properties open and growing food into the future through conservation easements. Thank you to the Gallatin County Commission for supporting the renewed funding for the Open Lands Program. Thank you to the volunteer Open Lands Board and Gallatin County staff who review applications and thoughtfully allocate funds for projects. Thank you to the taxpayers of Gallatin County who have invested in our shared values of working farms and ranches, clean water, and open land. It’s working.

High fives are also in order for the Gallatin County Commission and staff who are working together on land use planning efforts for our valley’s future. The Planning Coordinating Committee, comprised of representatives from Gallatin County, Belgrade and Bozeman, have made tremendous strides in creating a plan for the “Triangle” area that addresses infrastructure, consistent development standards, and cross jurisdictional cooperation. The county commission and staff have also embarked on a comprehensive update to the Gallatin County Growth Policy, the guiding document for all land use planning and development in the county. Bringing together a large county, with contradictions and multitudes, is challenging.

Their doors and ears are open, to all of us. We must support their efforts by sharing what we value about the place we love and participating in their public processes. An engaged community of diverse voices will ensure that they develop a plan that addresses all the things that make our valley unique, and all the things that unite us. Both plans will have multiple opportunities for public comment and engagement over the next few months to a year. Please, join in and share your voice! www.envisiongallatin.com

EJ Porth is the communications and outreach director at the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.