The Bitterroot Valley draws people from all walks of life – each with their own backstory, passions, and unique reasons for calling this special place, “home.” But one commonality is prevalent across community members: a love for open space.

Gary Beadle was born and raised on a farm in the Midwest. He grew up learning to love everything that the farming lifestyle had to offer. When it came time for him to head out on his own, he landed in an urban area, with a career that placed him on the inside of an office – a complete opposite landscape from what he had always known.

“When I first met my husband Gary, he couldn’t have been doing anything different than how he grew up – always dressed for work in white shirt and trousers,” says Robin Beadle. “But I knew he was a farmer from his past and loved hearing the stories he would tell me from life on the farm. I was enchanted by it – and that my husband had that value system of understanding the importance of agriculture, growing your own food and hard work. We felt we needed to move elsewhere to get back to those roots.”

After feeling an instant connection to the Bitterroot during a trip in the early 2000’s, they decided to jump in with both feet and were able to purchase a small 200 acre parcel in Victor, which they dubbed “Rory R Ranch.” During their early years in the valley, Gary and Robin quickly observed how the valley was changing. It concerned them.

“Coming from a large urban area like Chicago, over those 40 years, I saw such an explosion of suburban development with people purchasing all of this valuable agricultural land in Illinois and seeing it be divided into subdivision after subdivision,” says Gary. “I knew if there was going to be this heightened level of development in Ravalli County, that preserving the ag land would be critical.”

When a large ranch went up for sale west of Stevensville in the Burnt Fork neighborhood, the Beadles jumped at the opportunity to protect it from subdivision. Formerly known as the Mytty Ranch, they purchased a significant portion of it and instantly started to discuss the next steps, which would be to preserve the property for the future of agriculture in the valley.

“As soon as we bought the ranch in Stevensville, things really started to blow up here with land prices skyrocketing and more and more people moving to the valley,” says Robin. “The timing was perfect when we started talking with the Bitter Root Land Trust about the easement. It was almost meant to be.”

The Beadles were both very familiar with the concept of land conservation and the conservation easement tool when they began meeting with the land trust. It was something that they had been interested in doing from the very beginning with their Victor ranch, and what drove them to ultimately purchase the Stevensville ranch. After conservation staff visited the property, there was no doubt that this project would be a perfect model for a conservation easement.

The property is comprised of two large tracts of land totaling 1,260 acres of open-space rangeland that includes sagebrush shrublands and montane grasslands, along with miles of ephemeral creeks and riparian habitat, all of which collectively support locally important species such as elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and fox, and “Species of Concern” such as Brewer’s sparrow, evening grosbeak and sage thrasher. The shrublands and grasslands provide grazing opportunities for cattle, as well as scenic views of natural open space that can be enjoyed by the public traveling along a number of significant valley roadways.

“I know personally when I go to the larger grassland parcel, I can go up there and just get lost,” says Gary. “You look around, and it’s just amazing to look to the west and to the north, the south and the east, and all you see are mountains, grassland, and wildlife. It’s as if you’re in the middle of heaven. No structures, no people – just wildlife and natural beauty.”

And now, thanks to critical funding support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Land Easement Program and the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond, 1,260 acres of the ranch are conserved.

“We’re just so happy that we were able to put this property in an easement and preserve it for future generations,” says Robin. “People move here with different intentions. This is a special place, and if we don’t reasonably protect it, it will be gone. We just want to keep it this way the best we can, forever.”