Wide Open

An interview with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

Penelope Pierce, the new executive director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), offered some insight into one of the area's most well-known organization that protects this valley that we call home.

O/B: What are the origins of Gallatin Valley Land Trust?
PP: GVLT was conceived and launched by Chris Boyd as well as other community leaders in 1990. The mission of GVLT was, and continues to be, to conserve southwest Montana’s heritage of open landscapes, working farms and ranches, healthy rivers, and wildlife habitat; and to create trails to connect people, communities, and the land. One of our first projects was helping to create Burke Park (otherwise known as Peets Hill) by working with private landowners and the city of Bozeman. Twenty years later, we’ve helped conserve more than 56 square miles of land and helped create over 60 miles of trail.

O/B: How has your first four months as Executive Director gone? Can you give us a brief recap of your background?
PP: My first few months have gone really well and have gone by really fast! I love the challenges, the opportunities, the staff and board, and the donors who help make our work possible. GVLT is such a strong, vibrant, well-loved, and supported organization doing work that directly affects the quality of life of people living in the Gallatin Valley. I can’t think of a better place to be.

I have a law degree from the University of Oregon and a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. I have over 20 years of experience in conservation as the Land Conservation Director for the Wyoming Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, running a private rainforest reforestation project on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, and as the U.S. Regional Director for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. I also sit of the board of directors of the Western Environmental Law Center.

O/B: What do you all see as the main conservation challenges in the Gallatin Valley, and what solutions do you implement or need to overcome them?
PP: Our current challenges include the economy and development. We need to ensure we don’t lose what we all love so much about this place. Although development pressure has slowed in recent years, the Gallatin Valley will continue to grow because of the fantastic natural and cultural amenities here, especially the wonderful trail system, beautiful open spaces, and world-class wildlife. The slowdown in growth is a unique window of opportunity for us to work on the most important and critical land conservation and trail projects—but the window won’t last.

O/B: What have been GVLT’s biggest successes in the last 12 months?
PP: Nearly 1,000 additional acres of productive farmland, important wildlife habitat, and scenic open space were permanently protected in new conservation easements. On the trail front, a fabulous trail was created up Chestnut Mountain, with a spectacular spur trail to the popular climbing area Frog Rock. Additionally, the heavily used Sourdough Canyon trailhead boasts 18 new parking spaces and a brand-new vault toilet. For Nordic enthusiasts, extensive new ski trails exist east of Highland Boulevard, thanks to collaboration between GVLT, Bridger Ski Foundation, and Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. We are also proud to report that our membership has grown to over 2,000 active supporters.

O/B: What accomplishments are you and your staff most proud of?
PP: Through partnerships with 85 families, we’ve helped conserve over 36,000 acres of productive farm and ranch land, important wildlife habitat and open space, and we helped to build and maintain 60 miles of trails in our ever-growing, award-winning Main Street to the Mountains trail system.

O/B: How has the community supported GVLT?
PP: GVLT is the community’s land trust—without the support and engagement of our members, we could not exist. The community has supported GVLT by partnering with us on multiple occasions, volunteering for us, coming out to our events, being members, using our trails, conserving their land, writing checks, and believing in our mission. Last year we had over 2,200 hours of volunteer help. Nearly 70% of GVLT’s budget comes from donations from individuals.

O/B: Any new projects in the works?
PP: In our Land Conservation Program, we are partnering with families all over the Gallatin Valley to conserve working farms and ranches and wildlife habitat. Tax incentives for conservation easements (or voluntary agreements that limit subdivision and development) were extended by Congress at the end of 2010, so there has never been a better time for landowners to consider conservation options for their private lands.

Additionally, our Community Trails Program is focused on completing our improvements at the Sourdough Canyon Trailhead, including stream restoration, further expansion of parking, and making the access road safer. We are also developing a new project to post signs where there are gaps in the trail system, directing trail users to the nearest trail. We are also working with partners to complete exciting trail improvements at the East Gallatin Recreation Area, Kirk Park, the county regional park, the hospital, and many other locations on the Main Street to the Mountains trail network.

To get involved with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, visit gvlt.org. Participate in National Trails Day June 4, which helps improve the Main Street to the Mountains trail system; or the Longest Day of Trails on June 24, which is a membership drive and trail celebration event on the longest day of the year.