Let’s Help Save Gallatin Valley’s Open Lands Vote June 5

My wife and I moved to Bozeman in 1974. We were expecting our first child as we criss-crossed the U.S. looking for a place to call home, raise our growing family and start our business. Access to the great outdoors and quality of life were key factors in our decision to put down roots here and make Big Sky Country our home.

While less common in the 1970s, our story is one we now share with many of our friends and neighbors. People are moving to Gallatin County and starting their businesses here because they want to live in this special place. Technology and the evolving economy have made it much more possible to live where you want and bring your business with you.

Throughout the years, our business changed and grew, much like Bozeman and Gallatin County. Forty-plus years ago, our business began as the Cobbler’s Corner Shoe Repair shop. We had one part-time employee. When we sold our business in 2005, our company employed 45 people at our downtown store, Sundance Shoes in the Gallatin Valley Mall and at our mail order and manufacturing plant on Huffine Lane. Despite a change in ownership, Schnee’s remains a thriving business in Gallatin County. My family and I remain active and involved members of the community.

Our business grew thoughtfully, sustainably and sometimes in bursts. We hit a few bumps along the way, but we kept the big picture in mind. As a businessperson, I see parallels between how our business grew and the changes and growth Gallatin County is experiencing.

Gallatin County has the strongest economy in the state, with the most jobs added of any county between 2000 and 2015, accounting for one out of every four jobs created in Montana. Our quality of life, open lands and access to the outdoors fuel our economic growth and success. These same attributes define who we are as a community, fuel our spirit and draw people to the area.

While the economy continues to hum along, changes are taking place across the county. We are hitting a few bumps in the road as the open lands, farms and ranches, and wildlife habitat that contribute to our quality of life are disappearing. We need to take the long view to ensure we don’t lose the things that make this place special. On June 5, Gallatin County voters will have the opportunity to do something about it and help determine where and how our county grows.

During the primary election on June 5, Gallatin County voters will be asked to renew their commitment to our open lands program by voting “FOR” the Open Lands Levy. Gallatin County’s Open Lands Program has a seventeen-year track record of success, allowing us to plan for the future while maintaining open lands, recreational opportunities, farms and ranches and our quality of life.

In 2000 and again in 2004, Gallatin County voters passed bonds creating the Open Lands Program to a tune of $20 million. Funding from the program was used to create the 100-acre Gallatin County Regional Park, establish the Chestnut Mountain Trailhead and the North Cottonwood Trailhead, conserve 50,000 acres of farms, ranches and wildlife habitat throughout the county and leveraged $5 of matching funds for every $1 of taxpayer money.

A five-to-one return on any investment is a good deal. A five-to-one return on an investment in Gallatin County’s open lands, farms and farmers, ranches and ranchers, and wildlife habitat makes good sense.

Funding for the program has run out. For our future and our quality of life, please join me in renewing funding for this important program. On June 5, please join me in taking the long view by voting FOR open lands.

To learn more about the Vote FOR Open Lands campaign, please visit foropenlands.org  

Steve Schnee has called Gallatin County home since 1974. He is the co- founder, with his wife Jean, of Schnee’s Boots & Shoes and serves as treasurer for the Vote FOR Open Lands campaign.