A Helena couple is among five recipients of the Montana Neighbor Award for land stewardship, conservation ethic and neighborly land access.
Gov. Steve Bullock presented the awards on Wednesday at the Capitol to Ron and Vonne Schatz of Helena, Scott Blackman of Craig, Robin and Steve Street of Kalispell, the Cornwell Ranch of Glasgow and Duane Richards of Hammond. Recipients are chosen by a committee of conservation organizations, land trusts, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the governor’s office.
“It’s great to recognize these men and women who embody the best of Montana,” Bullock said. “Here in Montana, we still have a sense of community that has been lost in much of the country. We offer a helping hand when our neighbor is in need, and we know that we owe it to the next generation to provide them with a state that’s in the same pristine quality we received it.”
The winners each received Montana Neighbor Award certificates signed by the committee and the governor. The framed document features an Evelyn Cameron photograph from the early 1900s, picturing a hay crew of neighbors working with horse-drawn wagons.
Prickly Pear Land Trust nominated the Schatzes after they placed their fourth-generation, 1,500-acre ranch into a conservation easement. The ranch sits just west of the Continental Divide near Mullan Pass.
Ron passed away in April of last year, and Vonne said she wished he was there to receive the award.
“He was the backbone to land stewarding and conservation,” she said. “But he knows it’s protected.”
The Schatz family loves the piece of land for its natural beauty and wildlife, including moose, bear, badgers and elk, she said. The family still runs cattle on the property as they have since 1865, when the Schatz family first homesteaded it.
They plan to start fixing fence this month and have their cows out by June, Vonne said.
The community became known as Schatz, Mont., and at one time boasted a post office, school and stop on the Mullan Road stagecoach road between Helena and Missoula. The history is one the family is proud of and wanted to see preserved.
“It’s our little piece of heaven,” Vonne said. “If you ever need an attitude adjustment you just need to go there.”