With the rich soil of Lonerock under his feet and a calm, clear winter sky above, Sam Gates looks around the family farm with great joy and satisfaction. He and his siblings recently conserved their 160 acre farm, honoring what their parents had worked so hard to create 65 years ago.

Sam’s deep voice carried the love he had for his father, “This is what he wanted to do. This is where he wanted to be.”

When you first get to the large, white farmhouse, some very vocal geese and ducks make your acquaintance, while friendly cats and dogs await your affections. Their large field, with views of St. Mary’s to the west, is irrigated and leased to local folks. The Gate’s parents, Joseph and Lois, used to grow different crops and had good success raising pigs for a time.

Sam reminisces about simpler times. “There are just so many memories wrapped up in this place,” he said. “All of these things that have tied us together as a family are right here in this place that we grew up. My brother and I chased each other all over these 160 acres.” He motioned to the field, the creek, and the willows, “We were renegades, just running wherever we wanted up and down the creek. We had so much freedom.”

You Can Always Go Home

Life isn’t quite so simple anymore. Children, even rural kids, aren’t as connected to the natural world, playing in fields or running through the trees like Sam and his siblings did. Often they don’t get to spend as much time with other family members like grandparents.

That won’t be the case for this family, or this farm.

“I definitely didn’t want to see this place broken up,” Elizabeth Gates said. “I never would have been able to come back here again if that had happened.” Sam’s daughter Elizabeth and her partner are raising their infant daughter on the farm, carrying on a family tradition. “I cherish the childhood memories I have here, spending precious time with my grandmother.”

Sam Gates, daughter Lizzie Gates, Gates Family Farm, Lonerock, Bitterroot Valley

Now four generations of the Gates family have made this farm their home. While his siblings live close by in Missoula, Sam lives on the farm and will see his granddaughter grow up here, run through the same creek, and enjoy the same freedom he felt as a boy.

Sam feels good about the decision to conserve the farm.

“Right from the very first time that we started talking about it, everyone was on board,” he said. “I think my dad is smiling down at us right now and I think mom would be too now that we’ve completed the process. It’s a wonderful thing when you know that you can always go home.”

It’s incredible what happens when we come together to protect this special way of life that is uniquely Bitterroot. This is something we can all be proud of.