Middle Bear Farm in Victor, Montana

In celebration of 20 years protecting open lands in the Bitterroot Valley, the Bitter Root Land Trust will host a barn dance at Middle Bear Farm in Victor Saturday night.

The Bitter Root Land Trust Barn Dance will run from 5 to 10 p.m. Volunteers will serve a wood-fired pizza and a barbeque dinner followed by raffles highlighting Bitterroot valley businesses and a performance by the 406 Band. All proceeds from ticket sales will support future conservation of wildlife habitat and open farmland from Florence to Sula.

The Bitter Root Land Trust is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting private land from future industrial, residential or commercial development.

Emy Royce is the program director for The Bitter Root Land Trust. She said the barn dance is a culmination of the work the land trust has done over the last 20 years as well as a celebration of the people who made it possible.

The primary tool the Bitter Root Land Trust uses to conserve land is the conservation easement.

“The conservation easement is a voluntary landowner initiated tool to preserve their land forever in perpetuity,” Royce said. “It comes from the landowners heart rather than us. They’re doing it thinking of their kids and grandkids. Its pastoral. The Bitter Root Land Trust is focused on what the landowners want.” 

The Bitter Root Land Trust assisted in the conservation of 115 acres on Middle Bear Farm in 2013. The conserved land at Middle Bear Farm contains haygrounds, apple orchards, and open range with views of the Sapphire and Bitterroot Mountains.

Executive director of the Bitter Root Land Trust, Gavin Ricklefs, said that because all the conservation the land trust does is voluntary on the part of the landowners, it’s grateful for the amount of success that they’ve had.

“It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate 20 years and to thank the people who have supported us,”  Rickfels said. “I think the community should be really proud that they invested in making sure open lands are still here in future generations.”

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The first conservation easement Bitter Root Land Trust successfully negotiated was for Howard and Patti Eldredge in 1999 in Victor. So hosting the 20 year anniversary celebration in Victor is particularly special for the land trust, according to Ricklef.

“It’s the spot where all began. We’ve come a long way in the past 20 years to preserve private property rights and the cultural heritage of the land," Ricklefs said. “It’s just a recognition of a voluntary way for landowners to maintain their land and the values that they espouse on it.”

Much has changed since 1997 when the Bitter Root Land Trust first became active in the valley.  For one, the county’s vote to create the Open Lands Bond Program in 2006 opened land conservation opportunities to a broader swath of landowners.

“It was a total game changer for conservation in the valley. In the past conservation work had been expensive,” Ricklefs said. “Prior to this passing, the land trust had to ask landowners to not only prohibit development on some of their lands, but also to pay for it themselves. The Open Lands Bond Program made land conservation open to anybody.”

The program grew out of the Ravalli County Right to Farm and Ranch Board and is one of only four similar programs in the state.  It provides a funding source for conservation projects and assists in locating outside funding as well.

The Open Lands Bond Program would not exist were it not for broad community support for conservation, according to Ricklefs.

The most recent conservation project the land trust completed was to preserve Gayle and Brien Weber’s working ranch adjacent to the Calf Creek game range.

Admission is free for those age 17 and under and volunteer babysitters from the Victor Future Farmers of America will provide assistance for those with younger children.

Tickets to the barn dance can be purchased in advance for $25 at bitterrootlandtrust.org or at the door for $30.