Protected Open Lands Are The Key To Successfully Growing Big Sky’s Economy


Hummocks and Uplands Trail
Hummocks and Uplands Trail

What’s the best part of living in Montana? Is it the hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, rafting, hunting, and other outdoor activities? The easy access to open lands is one of the reasons why we all moved here. It’s what makes Montana great.

It’s no wonder that people are keen to call Montana home. It’s the fourth largest state and is home to just over one million people. If there’s one thing Montana has lots of, it’s open land.

Open land is something that every Montanan values, treasures, and appreciates. Montana is filled with snow capped peaks, crystal clear alpine lakes, expansive mountain ranges, meandering rivers, vast grasslands, abundant wildlife, endless trail systems, deep forests, protected wilderness areas, massive national parks, and jaw dropping vistas. Just look in any direction and you will be impressed.  This diverse and wild landscape will make everyone smile.

People come to Montana from around the globe because of our open lands. Our backyard is an outdoor paradise. Open lands are why we choose to work, live, and play here. It’s something that each and every one of us needs to protect. We all benefit from open land conservation and there are several organizations devoted to the cause.

Travelers For Open Land is a creative initiative designed to fund Montana’s open land heritage. Formed by the Montana hospitality industry, including Big Sky resident Mike Schultz, this organization aims to protect the wide-open lands, conserve wildlife, promote outdoor activities, and encourage tourism so that people can always get out and enjoy the great outdoors. They aim to preserve the things that make Montana great for future generations.

West Fork of the South Fork of the Gallatin River
West Fork of the South Fork of the Gallatin River

Protecting open lands has more benefits than most people realize though. It creates a positive and direct impact on Montana’s economy. Headwaters Economics, of Bozeman, Montana, recently wrote an in depth report titled “West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote Jobs and Higher Incomes” that highlights the economic value of protecting open lands.

Headwater Economics’ extensive research shows that the protection of national parks, wilderness areas, and stunning vistas is one of the best ways to increase job growth, population, and personal income. The world’s top talent and innovative companies are actively relocating to regions across the western US that have made it a priority to protect open lands – places like Montana.

The main attraction for this influx of talent and innovation is the appeal of open lands for outdoor recreation. This is not a new trend either. The western United States has outpaced the rest of the US economy in growth of employment, population, and personal income for the last four decades. High paying jobs in service industries such as health care, real estate, finance, insurance, and high-tech are paving the way for Montana’s long-term success. The driving force is the accessibility to open land – something that Montana has in abundance.

Montana’s open lands are absolutely an economic advantage to our state, our region, and our communities. By capitalizing on the aesthetic benefits of our backyard, we can tap into a steady flow of highly skilled, highly talented, and highly innovative workers who want to call Montana home.

Big Sky is in the perfect spot to truly take advantage of the open lands mentality. Our mountain community is just 228 mi², but it is surrounded by protected open space. Nestled in the Madison Range our “backyard” includes the 254,288 acre federally protected Lee Metcalf Wilderness, the 3,468 mi² Yellowstone National Park, and the 1,819,515 acre Gallatin National Forest – plus vast tracts of private land too. We literally have open land in every direction.

Everywhere you look there are breathtaking vistas, towering mountains, pristine rivers, expansive forests, and untouched nature. The potential for outdoor recreation is through the roof. It’s the reason why you decided to live here. It’s the reason why there is a steady flow of destination guests and outdoor adventurers who come to enjoy Big Sky and support our mountain town economy.

The open lands of Big Sky and all of Montana are the economic drivers that run our businesses, support our families, and allow our community to grow and reach its full potential. Open lands provide the quality of life we all desire. Combine Big Sky’s outdoor paradise with a solid transportation infrastructure, quality schools, high speed internet, clean water, panoramic views, outdoor recreation, and arts & culture, and our community is primed for success.

When we break it down, it’s really quite a simple concept: Big Sky’s open lands are an attractive reason to move here. The result is an increase in jobs, income, and population – all necessary components of an active and growing economy.

Protecting our open lands is the best way to create a vibrant and healthy future for Big Sky. Let’s use our open lands as a 21st century tool for economic development. We’ll all be amazed at the potential of Mother Nature.

Ousel Falls
Ousel Falls

July 2016 is Montana Open Land Month. To kickoff Open Land Month, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce is hosting the 19th annual “Big Sky, Big Idea” at Big Sky Resort on June 15, 2016. Also known as “The Most Important Meal In Town,” the annual dinner and awards will feature Montana Governor Steve Bullock as the keynote speaker. Join us for a meal to remember as we celebrate the value of the open lands that keep our businesses, our community, and our state on the fast track to success.

Now go outside and enjoy Big Sky’s open lands. It will make you smile and that’s a good thing.