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Montana open land: it defines who we are and what we are. We – the authors of this article – are connected by blood, a grandfather and granddaughter, and we are connected to Montana’s great outdoors through affection, appreciation and admiration.

Open land helps sustain Montana’s economy and nourish our souls. Yet all too often we take our vistas, farms and ranches, wildlife habitat, river bottoms and recreational opportunities for granted – as if Montana can’t and won’t change. As if our open land will always be there.

That’s a dangerous assumption. Sometimes it’s important to pause and truly reflect upon what open land means to our Montana way of life.

That’s why we are thrilled to see Gov. Steve Bullock recognize July 2015 as Montana Open Land Month (a first in Montana) and see the outpouring of support for this month-long celebration. Montana Open Land Month offers us all an opportunity to celebrate what open land means for our quality of life and economy, and we encourage you to learn more by visiting the Montana Open Land Month website: openlandmt.org.

From Bromley: The work of my grandfather, Ron, has taken him on journeys to legendary Montana locations to work on mythic-sounding projects. The Devil’s Slide. Tenderfoot Creek. Iron Mask. The Porcupine and Taylor Fork areas of the Gallatin. The OTO Ranch. Dome Mountain. Western Montana’s Frenchtown Valley. I respect my grandfather’s heroic dedication to Montana’s outdoors, and his induction as an inaugural member in the Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame is truly inspiring.

I will always treasure my grandfather’s raw joy in my own exuberant exploration of the outdoors. Many of my fondest childhood memories involve rocks, flowers, insects and all kinds of animals that live in and near lakes and streams. Now a student at Montana State University, it is not an exaggeration to say I’ve hiked, fished, snowshoed, camped, kayaked, climbed, floated and boated across Montana. So many precious moments: thundering hooves of a moose, gently falling aspen leaf, solitude, exhilaration.

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From Ron: My granddaughter, Bromley, may be too young to fully understand this statement, but the truth is, if you’re not paying attention, 40 years can go by in a hurry. I received a degree in wildlife technology from the University of Montana in 1967, and I’ve spent my entire career working in the outdoors. You see a lot of changes in 40 years, but one thing that hasn't changed – and if we’re smart, it never will – is our cultural commitment to open land. Montanans have been good stewards of our resources. We have wild trout. Wild places. Wild animals. Abundant and diverse recreation. Healthy agriculture and tourism industries.

Close your eyes, imagine the word “Montana,” and visualize an image. It doesn’t matter if you’re retired and looking back or young and looking ahead: the image in your mind is almost certainly inspired by open land.

Montana open land defines who we are and what we are. It defines not just a grandfather and a granddaughter, but all of us lucky enough and privileged enough to call Montana home.

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Bromley Maharg, born in Helena, is finishing her degree in dietetics at Montana State University in Bozeman. Ron Marcoux is a retired Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks deputy director and held several leadership positions with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. He lives in Helena and serves on the Prickly Pear Land Trust Board of Directors.

More information about Montana Open Land Month is available at openlandmt.org.

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