One of Missoula’s oldest conservation institutions will say hello to its new home and goodbye to one of its core leaders on Friday.

Five Valleys Land Trust conservation director Greg Tollefson will be the guest of honor at the organization’s open house in its 120 Hickory St. offices from 5 to 8 p.m. He said Missoula’s change during his tenure has been remarkable.

“Panic would be certainly one way to describe the feeling back in the mid-’80s, when the specter of rapid growth was looming over western Montana,” said Tollefson, who spent 25 years with FVLT. “I think that panic has evolved into a feeling of working to accommodate change and taking a hard look at the qualities of the landscape that are truly irreplaceable and important to the community.

“And Five Valleys has changed from a horse-and-buggy operation to one of the most highly regarded community and regional interests in the country. It’s been something to watch.”

Tollefson, who’s also contributed outdoors columns to the Missoulian for the same quarter-century, said he planned to move on to some “serious writing” on a book project in his retirement. Former Missoula District Ranger Maggie Pittman has assumed the conservation director post at FVLT.

The 40-year-old organization that’s helped preserve thousands of acres of open space in and around Missoula moved into its new offices next to McCormick Park in April. FVLT Director of Operations Beth Cogswell said donors Kim and Ruth Reineking bought and remodeled the east end of the Montana Natural History Center building for the land trust, arranging to rent it for 20 years and then transfer the title to the nonprofit group.

“They’ve been incredibly generous,” Cogswell said. “And it really has helped us. We’ve had two homes in the past three years. Now we know what to expect for office living expenses for the next 20 years.”

Five Valleys helps arrange conservation easements that pay landowners to preserve their ranches, farms and other open spaces from development. It also buys or underwrites land deals that bring acreage into public hands, such as portions of the Kim Williams Trail and the mouth of Rock Creek.

And it organizes education activities that raise awareness of public land stewardship such as riverbank plantings, trail building and park upkeep.

While Tollefson retired officially last December, Cogswell said Friday’s event marks the public farewell to the organization’s former executive director and project manager, as well as conservation director.

“He’s been an integral part of Five Valleys, and the key person in some of our public land acquisitions like Mount Sentinel and Alberton Gorge. When we review some of the details, those were incredibly complicated projects. There are not many who would have the diplomacy and fortitude to make that happen.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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