Preserving the Lower Valley

Flathead River homestead placed in land trust

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Jerry Brosten looks out on his property in the lower Flathead Valley.

Jerry Brosten recalls fishing and exploring as a youngster along the lower Flathead River on fourth generation family property that has become so special he recently enrolled it in a conservation easement that will preserve it for traditional uses and protect it from development for perpetuity.

"I spent hours and days down here by the riverbank, and we still do," he said, referring to his wife, Aileen.

The easement covers 192 acres of farmland that skirts along 1 1/2 miles of the Flathead River near Lower Valley Road. It was brokered by the Flathead Land Trust in December, concluding a banner year for the nonprofit organization in securing four conservation projects covering 524 acres.

The Brosten property was homesteaded around 1900 by Jerry's great-great maternal grandfather, Otis Papendick. It has been farmed ever since, most recently with Jerry raising wheat, barley and canola, and putting the property to use as a lease location for weddings.

"I think all this property along the river is special," he said, gesturing to the cottonwood-lined river banks where the nearest homes lie far in the distance.

As with many other conservation easements, the Brostens have terms that allow for a small part of the land to be sold for developing one homesite, but it is mostly restricted to traditional agricultural uses.

"A conservation easement keeps the property in private ownership and maintains traditional uses for the land," said Marilyn Wood, executive director of the Flathead Land Trust. "The landowner continues to maintain the land as agreed upon in the easement and pays taxes on the property, but it cannot be subdivided or developed. In the end, it's really the community as a whole that benefits."

Wood and Ryan Hunter, a land protection specialist for the trust, both praised the Brostens.

"I was truly impressed with their kindness, generosity and love for the beauty of their property," Hunter said.

Other conservation projects completed by the trust in 2011 included a 28-acre parcel adjacent to the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area; 163 acres of upland forest habitat bordering Little Bitterroot Lake near Marion; and 121 acres of prime agricultural land, wetlands and wildlife habitat adjacent to the Creston Fish Hatchery.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

This stretch of the Flathead Rive is now part of a conservation easement set up by Jerry Brosten.

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