Great things often have brave beginnings. Fifty years ago, in January 1972, a postage stamp-sized ad ran in the Missoulian newspaper inviting community members to a meeting about starting a river parks system. Twenty people attended that first meeting of the Five Valleys River Parks Association. Their grit and vision would help define what community-led conservation could be, lighting the way for the Five Valleys Land Trust that followed.
A half-century later, Five Valleys is beyond excited to be celebrating our 50th Anniversary. But more than being Five Valleys’ anniversary, this year marks our community’s anniversary of daring to start small to accomplish something big: protecting Western Montana’s natural legacy.
Five decades of passion and people and places is a humbling, amazing milestone with some truly incredible statistics: 195 conservation easements across 11 counties that have protected 80,897 acres in partnership with hundreds of private landowners. 50 community open space projects that have moved 14,630 acres into public ownership. Over 60 miles of trail built or stewarded. In total, Five Valleys has had a hand in permanently protecting 95,826 acres– an area roughly the size of Barbados.
These are the lands and landmarks that have been integral to life in western Montana for millennia: Rock Creek, Mount Sentinel, Alberton Gorge, the Flint Creek Valley, the Blackfoot River corridor, hundreds of private lands big and small spanning the landscape. It is the greatest honor imaginable to help continue the legacy of stewardship that has been passed down through the generations.
Yet, numbers and names only tell part of the tale. The true core of Five Valleys has and always will be the people. The landowners who trust us with their protecting their properties and values in perpetuity. Our donors and volunteers who give their time and money in support of conservation. The partners who expand our reach and impact. Our Board and committee members who lend us their expertise, experience, and vision. Staff who have brought professionalism and passion to this work. These people are Five Valleys. They are you.
Then there are the stories: community-shaping ideas hashed out at kitchen tables. Kids holding bake sales to help protect Mount Jumbo. A decade of volunteers restoring creeks on the Sundance Ranch. Partnerships at the Rock Creek Confluence that reconnect Tribal members to histories older than time, partnerships to connect new refugee families to the land for the first time. We could fill a library with the stories, and we look forward to sharing just some of them in the months to come.
Fifty years is the blink of an eye in the scope of perpetuity. And yet, look at all that our community has helped to accomplish in so short a time. So long as Western Montana is home to thoughtful, passionate, and visionary people, Five Valleys will be here to ensure that our river corridors, wildlife habitat, agricultural lands and community open spaces endure.
Thank you, Western Montana!
Header photo of Alberton Gorge by Montana River Photography