Subscribe for 17¢ / day

It all started when ranchers in the Blackfoot Valley didn't like what they saw: increased demands for hunting, recreational access to the river and pressures to subdivide.

Rather than complaining, one neighbor said to another, "Let's get together and see if we can get ahead of this thing."

The result on the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor was designated public access to the river, walk-in areas for hunting and conservation easements in place to protect valley ranchland.

These initiatives spawned others, including the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Blackfoot Challenge and multiple cooperative efforts among landowners, government agencies, recreationists, businesses and nonprofit groups.

After more than 40 years in the Blackfoot, Land Lindbergh, of Greenough, is one of the pivotal "neighbors" who constructively managed the change occurring along the Blackfoot River.

"You don't have the right to complain," he said, "unless you've worked with your neighbors to develop a better alternative."

That attitude, and decades working as a "good neighbor," made Land one of six Montanans to receive the 2008 Montana Neighbor Award.

Other 2008 winners include the Dana Ranch near Cascade, Bill Milton of Roundup, the McCrae family's Rocker 6 Cattle Co. of Forsyth, John Kountz of Whitehall and the Maynard Smith family of Glen.

The awards are given every year by the Artemis Common Ground, the Nature Conservancy of Montana, the Montana Council of Trout Unlimited and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to honor landowners who collaborate with friends and neighbors to enhance the sense of community in Montana, act as stewards of the land and make positive change.

"Our mission is to promote the on-the-ground reality of being a good Montana neighbor in a time of transition in our state," said Chris King, a Winnett rancher who served on the awards committee. "We believe that publicizing the good things that are happening will encourage others to take on similar efforts."

The group solicited nominations of landowners from across Montana, which were reviewed by King, representatives of the founding organizations, the governor's office and the Montana Association of Land Trusts.

"Great nominations were submitted," said Mike Volesky, natural-resources adviser to Gov. Brian Schweitzer. "It is inspiring to see that the tradition of being a good neighbor is alive and well in Montana. This tradition is essential to the future of our state."

Each award winner received Montana Neighbor Award certificates signed by the members of the awards committee and by Schweitzer. The framed document features a photograph by Evelyn Cameron from the early 1900s, picturing a multifamily hay crew - men, women and children, working with horse-drawn wagons.

"That photograph symbolizes the long history of Montanans working together to get things done," said Stan Meyer, board member of Artemis Common Ground. "It's no secret that land ownership in Montana is in transition, with a painful tension between landowners, public-resource agencies and sportsmen. Those situations get press. But the fact is there are many new and longtime landowners who are great neighbors in the Montana tradition. We want to give them recognition."

Awards are based on four criteria, including cooperation, land stewardship and conservation ethic, neighborly land access and community leadership.

One of last year's award winners, Warren Ross of Havre, summarized the essence of the award.

"Seventy years ago, at the height of the Great Depression, my father said we were stewards of the land," Ross said. "We might own it, but it's our obligation to share it. I've never forgotten that."