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July marks the first ever Open Land Month in Montana, and open land users and advocates are taking the opportunity to celebrate with events across the state.

It was four decades ago that Montana passed the Open-Space Land and Voluntary Conservation Easement Act, a unique law written by Montanans for Montanans, said Glenn Marx, executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts.

“A lot of states used a national template in their open land acts, but Montana basically wrote its own, strong act based on private property rights,” he said. “We’re hoping to take this opportunity to honor some of the people who are still alive that worked on that act, to honor them and honor their accomplishments as a historic milestone.”

Open Land Month came about as a way to celebrate the role open land plays in the lives of Montanans and many of the people who visit, Marx said. Whether it is agriculture, outdoor recreation or simply quality of life, experiences in Montana are open land experiences, he said.

“Sometimes just through the human condition we take things for granted,” Marx said. “With Open Land Month, we recognize the abundant value and quality of life open land brings to every one of us in Montana.”

Gov. Steve Bullock officially recognized July 2015 as the first Open Land Month in a letter back in December.

“Montanans take great pride in our outdoor heritage — a legacy we are entrusted with and must safeguard for future generations,” Bullock wrote. “As Governor, I am proud of the efforts we have made to protect our clean air and pristine waters and I commend the Montana Association of Land Trusts for their tireless devotion to private land conservation in the Big Sky State.”

Events across the state include everything from hikes to concerts to mutual promotions. For a complete list of events, information and videos, visit openlandmt.org.

On July 30, Prickly Pear Land Trust will hold an open house celebration at the Upper Prickly Pear Fishing Access Site located at the end of Olsen Road, which runs north from York Road. The event begins at 5:30 p.m., and will include partner organizations that support conserving open land, said executive director Mary Hollow.

“One of the goals of Open Land Month is for local land trusts to showcase what we do, and that what we do benefits ag, tourism, the economy -- you name it,” she said. “It’s exciting to have a fishing access site so close to town and it’s an opportunity to highlight the value of conservation.”

Along with events, a campaign called “Round Up for Open Land” allows shoppers in the town of Big Sky to “round up” bills with donations going to support local nonprofits. Another campaign called “Share the Big Sky” encourages open land users to submit photos via social media using the hashtags #OpenLandMT and #mymontana.

While land trusts, including the 12 members of the Montana Association of Land Trusts, play a major role in conserving open land and driving the events, the month is really about showcasing the diversity of uses and benefits from the lands themselves, Marx said.

Four decades after Montana passed open land legislation, roughly 2.4 million acres of private land has been voluntarily conserved.

“That’s a lot of land and a lot of landowners,” Marx said. “Our law is very landowner friendly and makes it easy for them to work with land trusts.”

Landowners have a wide variety of reasons for conserving land, he said. Some use a conservation easement for economics, and others for aesthetics or to honor a family legacy.

“Whatever their reason, it’s certainly good for Montana that they do and certainly good for the landscape,” Marx said.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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