Here lately, it’s not been often that Micki Long has heard her doorbell ring.
It’s also been long time since she’s had a yard filled both with children running about and familiar faces of fellow volunteers.
On Sunday she got all that when a group of Bitter Root Land Trust volunteers stopped by to present her with a personalized Thank You Gram for her efforts to help sustain the Hamilton-based nonprofit.
“It was so exciting to have a human being come to the door,” Long said about Sunday’s visit that included big thank you signs, cowbells and a special commemorative ornament. “It was so nice to be able to say talk with people who have things in common with you…It was so wonderful for them to go to that effort and offer their thanks in person.”
“I think it was a nice thing to do,” she said. “With winter coming, we’re all going to be even more isolated this year. It was a really nice touch.”
In a normal year, the Bitter Root Land Trust puts together a variety of events to celebrate local conservation efforts with donors and volunteers, but gatherings like that weren’t possible during the current pandemic.
“We wanted to figure out a way to personally connect with our supporters this year while at the same time keeping everyone safe,” said Lauren Rennaker, the trust’s development director. “While we had to pivot away from the normal annual events we hold, we knew we wanted to have some face time with our supporters to be able to show how much they mean to all of us.”
While there were plenty of proposals, the idea of making personal visits rose to the top.
In any given year, the Bitter Root Land Trust has between 660 to 700 donors who offer their support financially.
This year, the land trust finalized its 45th conservation project. And so they held a drawing of all their donors — both longstanding and new ones — and selected the 45 folks they would deliver a Thank You Gram.
“We decided we would honor those 45 projects by visiting 45 of some of our closest friends,” said Bitter Root Land Trust Gavin Ricklefs.
They divvied up the valley and sent volunteer teams of well-wishers to Darby, Hamilton, Victor and Stevensville.
“We brought people a nice land trust ornament,” Rennaker said. “We would ring the doorbell, step back and hold up the thank-you signs while ringing cowbells. We wanted to bring some holiday spirit and joy while thanking them for making all the conservation work possible.”
Emy Royce, the trust’s communication director, said it was rewarding to be able to share the joy of the season with people who mean so much to the land trust’s efforts.
“We exchanged smiles and were able to say thank you face-to-face,” Royce said. “It was really a special experience. Everyone is needing a connection right now. What better way to do that than meet people where they’re at.”
Ricklefs said the land trust typically hosts several events to connect with the community and supporters.
“We’ve always felt that it was important to get together to celebrate this beautiful place that we call home,” Ricklefs said. “While it wasn’t possible to be able to see everyone, I think the people we visited appreciated it. Folks are feeling pretty cooped up right now and to have smiling faces, cowbells and signs on their front yard was nice.”
Ricklefs said donations by community members have been vital in the land trust’s efforts to preserve working agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, riparian areas and places that provide public access to places like Hamilton’s new Skalkaho Bend Park and the WWW White Memorial Fishing Access Site on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.
The community’s generous support helps the land trust meet its operating fund goal of about $700,000.
“That’s about the scope of what it takes to make this work possible,” Ricklefs said. “The work here has grown so much and we are so thankful the community’s support has grown with it. It’s given us the opportunity to add some top-flight technical staff and to take risks, like taking out a half-million-dollar loan so we could hold Skalkaho Bend Park for a couple of years before turning it over to the city.”