Darrow land to be preserved

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Nearly a year after his death at age 90, George Darrow’s legacy as a leading conservationist in the Flathead Valley continues to grow.

The Flathead Land Trust is nearing a deal for two conservation easements totaling 671 acres of land north of Bigfork that belonged to the well-known civic leader and conservationist.

The properties are located east of the Flathead River and include working agricultural lands, forests and ridgelines visible from the highway.

The larger of the two spans 471 acres, including lands that contribute to Bigfork’s water supply, said Ryan Hunter, a land protection specialist for the land trust. It also contains a natural spring that provides a reliable source of cool water for downstream fisheries.

“One of the reasons we’re really excited about this is it’s associated with a prime conservationist in the community,” Hunter said. “We’re happy to be working with the family and continuing his legacy of conservation.”

Darrow’s is already a household name among conservationists in the area as well as throughout Montana. As a longtime state legislator, he was known as a champion of conservation measures — sponsoring the Montana Water Policy Act in 1967 and crafting the landmark Montana Environmental Policy Act in 1971.

Hunter added that if finalized as planned, the easement deal would be the largest, in terms of total acreage, that the organization has inked since 2010. Through 53 separate easements, the organization has conserved more than 10,500 acres throughout the valley and the surrounding mountains since 1985.

The agreements on the Darrow property would protect the land from future subdivision and restrict certain types of development, such as mining operations and gas stations.

While those rights would be donated to the land trust, Hunter said the organization is still working to cover the costs associated with the process of preparing the requisite reports and documentation.

To that end, Travelers for Open Land recently awarded a $5,000 grant to the group.

Glenn Marx, associate director for the Montana Association of Land Trusts, said the Montana-based Travelers for Open Land teams up with local businesses in the hospitality and outdoor recreation industries to solicit contributions.

“Open land is a primary reason that people come to Montana,” Marx said. “[The program] creates an opportunity for travelers and those that have outdoors businesses who serve travelers to make contributions to open land and all the benefits that brings us.”

He said the organization gives businesses flexibility in how they want to bring in donations. It could be a donation box, an added item on the check or a simple verbal request.

“This is a real good example of private land conservation in the Flathead that helps conserve scenic views, helps conserve agricultural land and helps conserve wildlife habitat,” Marx said.

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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