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Open Space (copy)

Hikers walk the trails on Waterworks Hill, one of Missoula's open space lands.

Imagine Missoula without Mount Jumbo. Or, more precisely, imagine a Mount Jumbo paved, gated and covered with houses.

This could easily have been our history when the mountain went up for sale in the early '90s. Missoula stepped up and decided that the mountain, its wintering elk herd, its incredible wildflowers and amazing views could and should become public, with trails open to all. Voters passed an open space bond to buy it. We’re so grateful. It was the bold and wise choice, and no one thinks twice about that investment now.

That’s because Missoula County residents deeply understand the value of protecting and caring for open space, clean water, and family farms and ranches. Access to rivers and trails are a major part of our quality of life and our economy. Just as our communities can be defined by our engaged citizenry, our local food and farmers markets, and how we take care of our neighbors through investment in community institutions like our schools, the food bank and the Poverello Center, we are also defined by our efforts to protect our open space, rivers and farmland. We understand that our county is shaped by shared love of place and by the recreational and economic opportunities provided by access to those places.

We understand that quite simply, these lands in Missoula County — and our equal access to them — make our lives better.

That’s why, in 2006, the county passed an open space bond that protected over 15,000 acres, and over 40 river miles. It was a remarkable return on our investment: for every dollar spent from the 2006 bond, nearly four dollars were matched through other funding sources. It was just smart business: as the old saying goes, they aren’t making more land.

That bond money was successfully spent, and those bonds responsibly paid off. A dozen years later, it’s time for us to step up and invest again. There is still vital conservation work to do. As Missoula County grows, we need to ensure our access to open space, our ability to protect wildlife and to ensure access to rivers grows with it. That’s why we’re urging voters to say "yes" to open space, rivers and farmland this November.

A renewed open space bond will not only protect our community’s quality of life and access to the natural world, it will protect rural livelihoods for family ranches and farming operations and it will help advance our community wildfire protection plan by buffering developed areas from wildfire.

Voters in the city of Missoula will also be asked to invest in land we currently own through a city-wide open space stewardship levy. The levy will provide funds to take care for our conservation lands in Missoula, needed funding for continued upkeep and conservation of our public open space lands like Mount Jumbo.

All of this will cost approximately $3 a month for the average homeowner in the city, about half of that for county residents.

It’s an important investment. Passing a renewed county Open Space Bond and a City Stewardship Levy ensures we can protect our quality of life, access to rivers and trails, and our agricultural heritage as Missoula County continues to grow into the future. It is vital to the well-being and economic prosperity of communities across the county, as well as the legacy we leave to future generations, to continue investing in conservation and upkeep of open spaces.

We urge voters to vote "yes" for these measures this fall.

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The writers are the executive committee for the Yes for Open Space, Rivers and Farmland ballot committee.By Mike Foote, Julie Gardner, Eleanor Morris, Amber Sherrill, Tracy Stone-Manning and Rick Wishcamper

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