Confluence: a term that denotes a point at which streams combine; also the place where two or more things meet or join.

The KBK river conservation easement at the confluence of Lost Horse Creek and the Bitterroot River has been completed.

There’s even been a celebration, hosted by the Bitter Root Land Trust and Bitterroot Trout Unlimited.

Gavin Ricklefs, executive director of The Bitter Root Land Trust, said thanks to all who participated in making the easement and especially to the landowner Bea Evans and her family members, Duane and JoAnn Hinman.

“It’s a testament to a wonderful family and it’s an amazing gift to all of us here now in the valley and to a lot of people who aren’t even born yet who are going to be able to float past that property, drive past that property in the future and enjoy it just like we do today,” said Ricklefs.

The Bitter Root Land Trust worked with Evans and her family to conserve the 160-acre property that Bea and her late husband, Keith, first purchased in the early 1960s.

Bea Evans said they enjoyed the property just it as it was.

“We decided we were better off closer to town, so didn’t build on the property,” said Evans. “Then it became the place to visit and take guests.”

They had horses and visited their land for picnics, fishing on the river, watching wildlife – including a moose – and simply enjoying the beauty and quiet of nature.

“They enjoyed the property,” said niece JoAnn. “They didn’t want it cut up – but just want to leave it like that – wonderful and unsullied.”

The celebration was a community open house held at the Bitter Root Land Trust’s office in downtown Hamilton. Special guests included the Evans family, the Ravalli County commissioners, members of BRLT and Bitterroot Trout Unlimited, and renowned Missoula artist Monte Dolack and his wife Mary Beth.

In 2007, Bitterroot Trout Unlimited commissioned a fine art print by Dolack, and after scouting many miles of the Bitterroot River for the ideal view of the Bitterroot River and mountain range, Dolack chose the view of “Lost Horse Bend,” the foreground of which is the Evans’ property.

Marshall Bloom, former president of Bitterroot Trout Unlimited, said art impacts lives.

“There are a lot of paths to conservation, but I think one of the most endearing paths is conservation art because it lasts for a really, really long time – as long as the conservation easement does,” said Bloom. “There’s probably no one who exemplifies art in conservation more than Monte Dolack and his wife Mary Beth. They have painted so many paintings of wonderful scenes and they are didactic; they teach people about the environment and the importance of conservation in ways which getting on a soapbox won’t necessarily do.”

Dolack said that when commissioned, it was quite a mission to decide the most beautiful spot in the Bitterroot. He came and spent days searching, camping, fishing and driving.

“I stayed up from sunrise to sunset looking for interesting landscape, riverscape possibilities, lighting,” said Dolack. “One evening the sun was setting in that area now called Lost Horse Bend. It was spectacular and I thought it’s not going to get any better than this.

“I thought maybe we should set this little spot aside. Maybe that’s why we live here. Not to drive [Highway] 93 and see the clutter there – but to see places like this that, thanks to the easement, will have that same beauty continuing into the future.”

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Dolack said he is so pleased that now the area is set aside. He graciously volunteered his time to dedicate signed prints of his painting of this beautiful landscape during the open house celebration.

The KBK river conservation easement protects important native trout habitat, enhances the Bitterroot fishery, and maintains scenic views for floaters and wade fishermen and for motorists driving on Highway 93. It also supports the Bitterroot’s recreational tourism economy by helping to maintain the natural setting that draws tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.

Two irrigation delivery systems serving over 900 users and irrigating over 7,000 acres originate on the property – the conservation easement reduces future conflict between irrigators and residential or commercial uses that could have otherwise occurred on the property.

The property is also a critical wildlife area, connecting the Sapphire and Bitterroot ranges.

The easement project was made possible by willing landowners, the Bitterroot Land Trust, the Open Land Bond that voters passed in 2006 and the support of county commissioners.

Ricklefs thanked the county commissioners, especially JR Iman and Suzy Foss, who were in attendance.

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“There have been 15 different projects over 4,500 acres since [the Open Land Bond’s] inception in 2006 – it’s a real testament to the leadership that we have here,” said Ricklefs. “JR has been a great proponent for agriculture and for this program.”

Ross Rademacher, president of BTU, presented the commissioners with a Monte Dolack framed print.

“For the commission with our deepest and warmest regards,” said Rademacher. “We know that conservation takes courage and our commission has demonstrated that courage.”

Iman said this easement means there is a balance.

“For all the things we differ on, this is one of the things we can agree on,” Iman said. “There’s a balance on all things we do in our valley. There’s a balance between the people that use the water – consume it – and the people that utilize it for other uses.”

Foss said this project was easy to approve because of the multiple impacts.

“Our ranch gets water from this. It is also important for elk conservation, wildlife and fishing guides,” said Foss. “This was an easy one to pick. It is so wonderful to work on a great project. My hat goes off to all the supporters in this room.”

The Evans family said they appreciate the community and all who care about them and the land.

“The first time I came here, I couldn’t believe how friendly the people were,” said Bea Evans.

“This has been a wonderful experience and it feels so good,” said Duane Hinman. “I just can’t say enough about Bitterroot Land Trust, but Gavin took us by the hand and made it work.”

“This group has been wonderful and timely and it’s been wonderful to work with them. I’m so glad they had a group to do this. It’s so important,” said JoAnn Hinman. “We do find this a wonderful special area. Thanks for being such strong proponents for the valley. They always wanted to preserve their property and we are honored to be here today and we are very proud.

“I hope more people will step forward and set aside land that the future will enjoy.”

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.