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Kay Downey and her husband Aaron had a dream. Settling in the Bitterroot Valley in 1972, the couple wanted to make their living farming and ranching.

"It became a dream of not only my husband and I, but of our children," Downey told the Ravalli County commissioners on Monday.

And now that dream will be protected for generations to come. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a conservation easement on Downey's land, which Kay says, is a perfect way to honor her late husband.

"This was his idea originally. I feel very honored and very proud to carry on his dream for our family," Downey said. "This is a very precious project to my heart and a very emotional one."

The conservation easement will protect two parcels covering 160 acres about three miles east of Corvallis, at the foothills of the Sapphire Mountains.

Total cost of the project is $535,000; of that, just over $94,000 is coming from the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond Program, a $10 million bond that was passed by voters in 2006.

The project received $212,000 from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.

The Open Lands Board voted unanimously to approve the project at the proposed funding level.

The Downey family has been working with Five Valleys Land Trust of Missoula on the project. Juniper Davis, a conservation project manager for the land trust, told commissioners the organization has been working with the Downey family for more than seven years on their application.

"We have been committed to it and working tirelessly on it," Davis said.

Gavin Ricklefs, executive director of the Bitter Root Land Trust, gave his ringing endorsement of the project as well.

"The scores for this project were, I believe, the highest of any project that has come through the Open Lands Program," he told commissioners.

The Downey property has crop, pasture and livestock land on it. There is also a custom log home business on the property that will be included in the easement.

Ricklefs told commissioners the reason they included the log home business in the easement was to ensure additional support for the agricultural operations on the land.

"Most farming families have some other business associated with the family," Ricklefs said. "It's actually a really good fit."

Commissioner Suzy Foss commended the Downey family for their efforts in preserving agriculture in Ravalli County.

"It's a wonderful gift you're giving to the community," Foss told the Downeys.

Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher said that he disapproves of the Open Lands Program as a whole, but since the bond has been issued and money needs to be spent for that purpose, he would support the application.

"If the Open Land Bond Program were in front of me today, I would vote against it," Kanenwisher said. "This really flies in the face of a number of ideals and philosophies of our Founding Fathers."

Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or