Bryan Dufresne grew up surrounded by the natural world in Stevensville.
It’s something he hopes to leave at least a portion to his children and the generations that follow.
That desire is what led Dufresne to join the Bitter Root Land Trust’s relatively new Next-Gen Committee and why he’s so excited about that group’s first big event — a poker run through the private lands in the Burnt Fork drainage protected for future generations from development through conservation easements.
“Growing up in Stevensville, me and my brother used to fish in the Burnt Fork a ton,” Dufresne said. “I certainly appreciate everything the Bitter Root Land Trust and private landowners have been able to accomplish there.”
The Burnt Fork Poker Ride is Saturday, May 21. It offers bikers and horseback riders an opportunity to tour a 10-mile route that winds through three ranches east of Stevensville owned by people who have chosen to preserve their properties forever through the Bitter Root Land Trust.
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The event costs $10, with check-in starting at 10 a.m. Bikes will start their ride at 10:30 a.m. with horseback riders beginning 15 minutes later.
“We want people to see how cool the preservation piece has been in the Burnt Fork,” Dufresne said. “The horseback riders and bikers will get to experience how much land has been preserved and will always be preserved.”
“When you look at the map and see how many parcels are preserved in that area that is all interconnected, it changes the way the way you see the land,” Dufresne said. “It’s neat to look at the map and think ‘holy mackerel,’ look at all these connected parcels that provide open space, watershed protection and wildlife habitat.”
Bitter Root Land Trust’s operations director, Kori Anderson, said the Next-Gen Committee was launched at the beginning of last year in hopes of reaching new people interested in preserving the Bitterroot Valley.
After seeing success from similar groups at other Montana land trusts, Anderson said a group of 12 people stepped forward from different regions of the valley.
“They are all recognized for their knowledge, leadership and commitment to the Bitterroot,” Anderson said. “All have demonstrated a passion for the valley’s agricultural heritage, wildlife and open space protection.”
Anderson said it’s important to the Bitter Root Land Trust board that it stays local.
“For us to stay rooted in our community, we have to make sure that we are serving the community as a whole, not just a certain subset,” she said. “We wanted to have a direct line into the younger generation working and living here.”
The group’s first event — the Burnt Fork Poker Ride — will offer people a chance to learn more about the area and all the great work that’s happening there, Anderson said.
At a time when the population in the valley is growing quickly, Dufresne said it’s important for the land trust to reach out both to people who have been here for a while and to those who are new.
“Growing up in the valley, I’ve slowly seen open space disappear but now it’s happening at such a rapid rate,” he said. “I think there’s an urgency that we’ve never seen before. Helping out with entities like the land trust is critical.”
“Hopefully new people moving here will get in touch with the land trust and understand the reason they decided to come here was because of the valley’s open space, wildlife and scenic wonders,” Dufresne said. “I hope they’ll want to become part of that Bitterroot climate and culture rather than wanting to change it.
“The biggest thing that we hope comes from the poker ride is a chance for people to learn about the land trust,” Dufresne said. “At this point, with the population exploding and people moving here from all over the place, I hope they’ll learn about the mission of the land trust and see all the good work they’ve been able to accomplish.”
When Dufresne was growing up in Stevensville, he could climb on his bike and ride into the wilds of the Burnt Fork drainage or the nearby Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.
“It was like a giant playground really,” he said. “It’s why I want to help the land trust. I want to help preserve what’s left so my kids and theirs will have the same type of childhood that I had.”
To learn more about the Bitter Root Land Trust’s Burnt Fork Poker Ride, visit https://bitterrootlandtrust.org/