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Travelers for Open Land, the only statewide program of its kind in the country, has taken great – but fairly quiet – strides since the program was launched in 2009. Those impressive strides have taken the program from eastern Montana’s grassland plains to the shores of Flathead Lake, from the foothills of the Bridger Mountains to the river bottoms of the Big Hole Valley, and many places in between.

Two of those places are the Mission and Bitterroot valleys, and for several reasons it makes sense to pause and reflect on this program and these excellent projects.

Earlier this year, Travelers for Open Land awarded Five Valleys Land Trust in Missoula $15,000 to help fund a 2,278-acre conservation easement on the Moiese Valley Ranch in the Mission Valley on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The project conserves an important wildlife corridor, valuable soils and a traditional working ranch.

Five Valleys Land Trust wrote, after receiving the Travelers for Open Land grant, that “TFOL funds will make a big difference in our ability to complete this conservation project, an effort that we believe will have lasting benefits for Montana residents and visitors alike. Montana is so lucky to have this program. It fills a real need for private land conservation assistance.”

Travelers for Open Land also awarded the Bitter Root Land Trust in Hamilton $10,000 to help fund a conservation easement on a historic 1,080-acre ranch in the Bitterroot Valley. The project protects existing recreational access, enjoys local support and has a connection to noted Montana artist Charlie Russell.

Bitter Root Land Trust wrote that “The Lazy J Cross conservation easement captures every reason why conservation easements positively impact Montana’s landscape and its people: Working agriculture, a blue ribbon trout stream, critical elk and big horn sheep habitat, continued public hunting and recreational access, scenic views, and historic significance. Equally exciting is the fact that the conservation easement will allow the Lazy J Cross to remain in the same family, as it has for three generations.”

This is all positive for Montana tradition, landscape and quality of life, and it is all made possible through voluntary cooperation. Conflict may get more attention, but cooperation gets more accomplished.

Travelers for Open Land is the definition of voluntary cooperation. Travelers for Open Land is a partnership among the Montana Lodging and Hospitality Association, Montana Association of Land Trusts, Montana Community Foundation, participating businesses and the traveling public, with help from the Montana Office of Tourism.

The program is fairly simple: A customer makes a voluntary donation at a participating business, the funds are collected and awarded through a competitive grant program to land trusts and land conservation projects. In 2012, these funds came from hotels, dude ranches, bed and breakfasts, outfitters with lodging, fly fishing shops, rafting companies and other tourism-related properties and businesses as well as a generous donation from the Rapier Family Foundation of Big Sky. The program recognizes that open land is an economic asset, and that Montana’s inspirational landscape is something we should never take for granted.

Travelers for Open Land has funded projects that create or expand recreational access, protect wetlands and lakeshores, conserve traditional ranches, preserve riparian areas, conserve forestland and more. It’s Montana made, for Montana.

Since 2009, Travelers for Open Land has awarded $148,365 to help fund 20 voluntary cooperative conservation projects throughout Montana. The Mission and Bitterroot valleys examples are very good examples of why Travelers for Open Land is so valuable, and why our landscape is so important.

Every aspect of Travelers for Open Land is voluntary and cooperative, and perhaps most impressively, quietly and effectively respectful of our landscape, traditions and future.

Kelli Butenko is the program coordinator for Travelers for Open Land. To learn more about the program, visit the TFOL website at www.travelersforopenland.org.

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