02-26-22 OUTDOORS column sclt soldier ridge trailweb.jpg

A dog named Trout enjoys the view of the Bighorn Mountains from the bench at the end of Soldier Ridge Trail, which runs along the Soldier Hills Conservation Easement, one of 12 properties local families have worked with Sheridan Community Land Trust to voluntarily conserve across Sheridan County.

Wide open spaces are good for the heart.

It’s a saying I saw tied to a social media ad selling a pair of boots I don’t need on a holiday I couldn’t care less about.

The image was evocative. A pair of cowboys standing next to their horses, reigns in hand. An endless field of green grass beginning to brown in the summer sun surrounded them. The image could easily have been from our great Greasy Grass seas here in the capital of Absaroka.

While my cold heart won’t fall prey to crass corporate claptrap meant only to separate dollar bills from my wallet, it will warm — melt even — for the slogan’s sentiment. It’s hard to overstate how integral open spaces are to our community’s identity here in Sheridan County. I reckon no one’s ever said, “I love living here, but we sure could use some skyscrapers to block those Bighorn views.”

As integral as open spaces are to our community’s identity, so, too, is the ability to do as we dream with our own open spaces — provided doing our dreams doesn’t unduly harm our neighbors. There is a saying about good fences and good neighbors after all.

How do we strike a balance and accommodate the needs of our growing community while ensuring Sheridan County remains a place where those Bighorn views aren’t blocked and the deer and antelope still play?

One way that balance can be struck is a voluntary conservation agreement, also called a conservation easement. Every agreement highlights a unique connection between family, nature, and agriculture.

Ten Sheridan County families have worked with the Sheridan Community Land Trust to:

• Make sure their family ranch passes from this generation to the next;

• Keep their working lands working so they continue to feed our stomachs and fuel our economy into the future;

• Secure homes on their land for big game, birds and tiny critters alike, whether it’s year-round or as they move through seasonally;

• Safeguard the clean creeks, rivers and streams that flow through their land;

• Create the conditions for more successful hunting and fishing –by hook, bullet and camera — on their land; and

• Preserve historic places, landscapes, markers and sites that are part of their land.

Voluntary conservation easements are a tool to accomplish all these things — and more.

In fact, SCLT has even worked with some of those families to create places like the Soldier Ridge Trail System where everyone in our community can enjoy that “away from town” feeling close to home. Another family chose SCLT to help conserve the open space we all enjoy today as Malcolm Wallop Park. But just because those families invited the community onto their land, doesn’t mean your family must welcome folks onto your piece of paradise.

“Contrary to what many believe, there is no requirement that you grant public access to your family’s land if you choose a voluntary conservation agreement. And you don’t give up your rights to the land, either. You choose what you conserve, and we are here to help you with whatever conservation you choose,” explained SCLT Conservation Program Manager Meghan Kent.

That’s why three more Sheridan County families are working with SCLT right now to conserve what’s special about their lands to help accomplish their dreams.

“The possibilities for conservation on your family’s land are limitless — just like your family’s dreams. Our job is to help you find the right conservation tools to help make those dreams a reality,” Kent remarked.

But you don’t have to take Meghan’s word for it. Just ask Mike Mitzel, who worked with SCLT to create an easement that voluntarily conserves his family’s ranch.

“It had always been my dream to own and operate an agricultural operation, and when the opportunity came to purchase the family ranch, I had to find a way to make it happen,” he said. “I saw a conservation easement as an integral tool to help make that a reality.”

Mitzel’s goals were to ensure the ranch would remain in agricultural production and that the family ranch would remain productive for his children.

“To me, conserving the land through an easement means it will help ensure that it is protected for my kids to someday enjoy. It will remain an agricultural operation with the resources of the land protected to ensure it can stay a productive operation. This easement is an essential piece for the future of the family ranch,” he reasoned.

Why did Mitzel choose to work with SCLT?

“I saw SCLT as the perfect partner to pursue the easement with. I like their local presence and have always been impressed with their commitment to improving the Sheridan County community,” he said.

“SCLT has made it a priority to preserve agricultural lands in Sheridan County. Their commitment to this project is what made it possible,” Mitzel concluded.

“If conservation sounds like a tool that can work for your family, please give me a call. I’d love to help you explore what conservation tools can help you see your vision through for your land,” Kent said.

And if your fences are a challenge, Kent may have some tools to help you with those, too.

At SCLT, we know wide open spaces are good for the heart — and we won’t sell your family something you don’t need or couldn’t care less about.

Meghan Kent can be reached at meghan@SheridanCLT.org or by calling the SCLT office at 307-673-4702. 

More information about how you can voluntarily conserve your land is available at SheridanCLT.org/land/conservation.

Chris Vrba is director of marketing and development for Sheridan Community Land Trust.

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