Ask anyone about what makes Missoula great and you’ll hear two things: the people who live here and our incredible access to open lands and rivers. In economic development speak, it’s called workforce and natural amenities. Here in Missoula, we call it what it is: great people and great outdoors.
These qualities are not an accident, and they are also connected. People and place have always been intertwined here. These hills and rivers shape us surely as geologic time have shaped them. After school, after work, on weekends – we head to the hills or to the river. And our ability to access these places has rested on people understanding the need to ensure that access.
About 30 years ago, Missoula realized that it was changing, so Missoulians did something about it. A public-private partnership acquired Jacob’s Island, as well as some other lands along the Clark Fork. Then we bought Mount Jumbo. And then Sentinel. And the North Hills. And along the way, we protected some of our working farms from future development.
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Time and time again, Missoulians have chosen to protect the lands around us that make our home so special.
It’s time to do it again. The last open space bond we passed was in 2006. It protected roughly 15,000 acres of open space and wildlife habitat and built another 20 miles of trail. Every open space bond dollar was leveraged four times through partnerships with private and public entities. The bond money has been spent and spent well.
The work to protect lands in our county is not done and the reasons for that protection are many. When we protect our lands, we’re protecting our economy. As the recently commissioned Garner Economics Competitive Realities Report for Missoula noted, the quality of life provided by access to our open, public lands and our rivers is at the heart of our ability to recruit and retain businesses.
As any good business knows, it’s critical to take care of your assets. That’s why, in addition to an open space bond for the county being on this November’s ballot, city residents will be asked to approve a stewardship levy that will provide ongoing funds to take care of our conservation lands and trails.
For county residents, the bill will come to about $1.80 a month for an average household. In the city, it’ll cost about $2.50 a month on average. These are wise and important investments.
I had the great honor of leading St. Patrick’s Hospital for a decade. What made me choose St. Pat’s was the quality of life I knew my family and I would have in Missoula. Repeatedly, I heard some of the country’s best doctors and nurses give that same reason for choosing here. They wanted to live here. In my recent interim economic development role, I continued hearing story after story of people choosing Missoula — either choosing to keep and grow their businesses here or to move them here — because our town is such a fabulous place to live.
We can make sure it stays that way, by continuing to protect our open spaces, farmland and rivers and by taking care of the lands we have acquired. I urge you to join me in voting yes on the open space bond and yes on the stewardship levy this November.