“When you’ve lived on a piece of property as long as I have, you develop a lot feelings for the place.” That’s how Bob Hayes describes his attachment to the land he has lived on for over 50 years near the small town of Evaro, Montana. The place is just 15 minutes north of Missoula, but with its lush meadows and forested slopes set against the rugged backdrop of the Mission Mountains, it feels far from the bustle of urban life. More likely than not, Bob will greet you warmly with freshly baked molasses cookies. Then he may show you how the maple syrup from the sugar maple he planted when he moved here is coming along and the log cabin set back in the trees where his late wife Ann taught preschool.
Neighborhood kids came here and learned about letters and numbers while Bob learned about how important his family’s place is for wildlife. He has seen black bear, elk, moose and deer moving through the forested portions of the family’s ranch. Wildlife biologists have noted its importance as a wildlife corridor too; finding evidence of other wide-ranging species such as lynx, grizzly bear and wolverine traveling through the area. The area is so valuable as a movement corridor that its been prioritized as a critical link for wildlife by regional wildlife biologists and land managers.
Over the years, Bob also learned which areas produced the best hay and pasture for his small herd of cattle and which areas were favored by camas flowers. These rich blue flowers bloom in such abundance here that the meadow takes on the appearance of a wide calm lake in spring. He found camas-baking pits and came to understand that Indian families had been coming here for generations to harvest and prepare this important food source.
As Bob developed a feeling for his family’s place, he realized that he wanted to keep it the way it is, for the wild animals that filter through the forest, for the generations who harvested camas in the meadow, and for the three children he and Ann raised here. With the help of the Missoula County Open Space Bond program, Bob protected his land with a conservation easement in 2008. Protecting this special place has been a positive experience for Bob, “Ever since putting the conservation easement on the property, I’ve enjoyed it even more. Looking out over the fields and knowing there won’t be any houses here just gives me a good feeling.“