She was a sweet little lady with a singsong Swiss accent who walked in the door at Five Valleys Land Trust sometime back in the mid-1990s and asked this simple question:
“What are you going to do to save beautiful Primm’s Meadow?”
And that, recalling the words of Sam Spade in “Casablanca,” was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Margrit Syroid and a diverse and passionate cast of characters that, years later, came to see the meadow permanently protected.
Margrit had first visited the majestic grove of towering 400-year-old ponderosa pines a couple of decades earlier on one of her many explorations of the beautiful country around her home in Missoula. And, like everyone who visits Primm’s Meadow for the first time, she was taken aback by the grandeur of the stately trees and shady glades beneath them where sunlight filtered delicately through the ancient boughs high above.
Nestled there, almost hidden along the West Fork of Gold Creek amid thousands of acres of industrial forest that have been harvested, and harvested again, since the early 1900s, the quiet grove remains. That it still stands is a testament to the fact that it is a special place.
This was even evident to the foresters of the old Anaconda Co. When Anaconda’s successor, Champion International, acquired the land from the Primm family in 1979, it was set aside from logging at the suggestion of forester Ernie Corrick and identified as the “Directors’ Grove.”
When the land was later transferred to Plum Creek Timber Co., the company honored that preservation intent by leaving Primm’s Meadow out of its logging plans. Even so, Margrit and many other concerned individuals who formed a group called the Friends of Primm knew that permanent legal protection of some kind was the only guarantee those mesmerizing pines would never be removed by the hand of man.
Margrit was like a bulldog with a vise grip on the pant leg of a mail carrier when it came to protection of the meadow. She contacted all sorts of people, all the way up the corporate hierarchy at Plum Creek, to remind them of the importance of Primm’s Meadow.
She went so far as to politely suggest they simply donate the property to some public agency or group that would take good care of it. And she kept at it, regularly and gently reminding not only Plum Creek, but local conservation groups and state and federal agencies, as well, that someone needed to step in to save Primm’s Meadow. Everyone at Five Valleys Land Trust came to know Margrit. When she stopped in, the visit usually resulted in another call from Five Valleys to Plum Creek to inquire whether it was ready yet to put together a permanent conservation easement.
It took years.
Then, one fine day, Plum Creek decided it was time to make the protection of Primm’s Meadow official as a way of honoring former Plum Creek chairman of the board Dave Leland. They did that by donating a conservation easement to Five Valleys Land Trust that assures permanent legal protection of the magnificent ponderosa pines that grace that place.
Margrit was there at Primm’s Meadow the day the easement was signed, and she and the many others who had participated in the effort over the years basked in the glow of having been part of something good and lasting.
Margrit Syroid passed away last week at the age of 88. If you took note of her obituary, you may have marveled at the fullness of the life she led from her childhood in Switzerland all the way to the mountains of western Montana. The abbreviated story of her life makes evident that she lived a life dedicated to others in meaningful and unassuming ways. Her contribution to the protection of Primm’s Meadow was just one of many gifts she gave to others in her long and rich life.
All who knew Margrit are saddened by her passing, but her life also serves as a reminder of the power we have to achieve things by working together. I clearly remember the sparkle in Margrit’s eyes when she spoke of the beauty she found at Primm’s Meadow. I felt the joy she felt when she talked of that place.
There are many people like Margrit in our community, people who quietly make a positive difference in our lives. It is a good time to remember that right now in a world so full of conflict and dysfunction.
Thinking of Margrit makes me smile.
Missoula writer and outdoorsman Greg Tollefson writes a weekly column for the Missoulian Outdoors section.