The Gallatin Canyon is such a beautiful place that we may be smothering it with love.
It is a rugged, forested landscape defined from its southern border, shared with Yellowstone National Park, to its mouth at the growing Bozeman bedroom community of Gallatin Gateway. Much of the land is public — speckled with high mountain lakes and marked by large tracts of wilderness — home to a variety of wildlife.
Near its center is a large section of private land dominated by Big Sky Resort, a year-round destination nationally known for its downhill skiing. This area is home to millionaires, ski bums, recreational workers and tourism-based businesses. Roads, trophy log homes and lodges stretch out from the base of 11,166-foot Lone Mountain.
Within the 50-mile stretch of rock-lined Gallatin Canyon, chiseled by the churning Gallatin River, tourism, recreation and development has risen dramatically. This is no longer a remote corner of the world. In that respect, the canyons story is one often repeated in the other scenic valleys of Montana — a magnificent landscape facing intensifying pressures from recreationists and developers, while conservationists work for preservation.
What makes the Gallatin Canyon different is that its landscape is so narrowly confined by geography that the rising number of recreationists and the amount of development is so evident.
Over the next week, Billings Gazette Outdoor writer Brett French and photographer David Grubbs will take readers on a tour of the canyon. Well introduce you to some of the people who live, work and play here. Well find out what it is that attracts people from as far away as Croatia and as close as Great Falls. Well also look at some of the businesses that make this tourist-based economy hum. Well talk to old-timers and newcomers to get a sense of what makes this corner of southwestern Montana so attractive. And well find out what some groups are doing to protect this precious public resource.
A piece of the dream: Gallatin Canyons housing costs are high as the mountains
Stories by BRETT FRENCH Photos by DAVID GRUBBS Of The Gazette Staff
Jerry Pape cant make you a cowboy, but he does sell people a piece of the Western dream.
For several thousand dollars or a few million, buyers can purchase a piece of the romantic Gallatin Canyon in southwestern Montana.
They want to go out to Montana, buy a ranch and be a cowboy, the 62-year-old Pape says from his small office near the entrance to Big Sky Resort. The Western mystique is big time here.
|The Gallatin Canyon: A special reportToday:
Living the dream/Canyon no longer a loggers paradise.
Monday: Big Sky Resort powers the Gallatin Canyon economy.
Tuesday: Working to play, playing to live.
Wednesday: Some of the locals liked things better before the wealthy arrived.
Thursday: The Gallatin River is small, but plenty accommodating to anglers.
Friday: Gallatin Canyons whitewater beckons a variety of river runners.
is one of the longest-operating Realtors in the Gallatin Canyon. Hes been working the market for 30 years. He use to be one of about three Realtors in the area, but he now estimates that there are about 60 people working the canyons real estate market.
The majority of Papes clients come from out of state. He says theres a lot of money out there, much of it made during the dot.com craze or the stock markets steep rise in recent years.
The volatility of the real estate market in the Gallatin Canyon has surprised Pape. He says he thought hed be dead before a home would sell for more than $2 million, but hes advertising one right now for $2.4 million. Hes seen prices for homes increase 25 to 30 percent in two years with no improvements.
Land is selling for $470,000 that 10 years ago sold for $90,000, Pape says. Some condos on the mountain are selling for $500 a square foot unfurnished. One dot.com businessman paid $600,000 cash for a home to use for two years while he built a house on 10 acres.
It amazes me the young kids with that kind of money, he says. You cant imagine that kind of money.Workers who provide services for vacationers and dot.com entrepreneurs cant imagine that kind of money either. On the lower end of the economic scale, workers pay $500 a month for a studio apartment in Hill Condominiums near the base of the ski hill, while trophy homes climb the surrounding hillsides.
The resort has built and maintains housing for 350 of its seasonal staff members, according to Taylor Middleton, general manager. The resort employs 850 workers in the winter, he says, about 450 in the summer.
The resort is also working with developers to create Big Sky Apartments that will be government subsidized and another group of affordably priced condos, Middleton says. In addition, three dorms house over 300 employees. One former resort worker referred to the dorms as a walk-in closet with a bathroom. The resort charges $250 for the housing.
Rafting guide Amanda Williamson, 23, may have the most unusual housing in the canyon. She lives in a renovated International Harvester bus for $200 a month. The bus has no bathroom, but it is pretty comfortable considering that she spent two previous winters near Big Sky living in a canvas wall tent.
Pape says Big Sky Resort has never addressed the problem of employee housing.
They built the Summit Hotel and never addressed the service people, he says of the large hotel at the base of the ski hill. Where the hell are they gonna live?
Thats why we have a lot of contractors and maids commuting from Bozeman, he says. The same thing happened in Aspen.Other resort towns, much larger than Big Sky, are addressing limited and costly worker housing with creative approaches. Vail, Colo., town officials are working with developers to create employee housing that gives priority to workers in the town and county. Rents will be based on a 20-year contract between the town and the buildings developer.
Ketchum, Idaho, at the base of Sun Valley ski resort, is also dealing with a dearth of low- and middle-income housing. To find a solution, the town has sent an exploratory committee to other resort towns.
In Jackson Hole, Wyo., the least expensive housing runs $300,000 with rentals priced at $850 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. To address the shortfall, Teton County residents voted in May to enact a local sales tax to raise $9.3 million for affordable housing.According to Pape, the cheapest place to build in the Gallatin Canyon is Ramshorn View along Highway 191. Lots are selling in the development for $39,000. Homes with 2500 to 2800 square feet in Ramshorn are selling for about $239,000.
You cant buy a condo for that in Big Sky, he says.
On the upper end, Pape says hes seen lots sell for $1 million. And homes with 7000 square feet of space are fetching $2.5 million. Pape estimates that about 70 percent of the homes in the Gallatin Canyon are second homes. And for the large chunk of change they are paying, Pape says most buyers want a sense of seclusion or isolation.
Ninety-nine percent of the people I sell to dont want to see anybody. They dont want neighbors.
In comparison, the average price of a home in nearby Bozeman is $172,276. The average wage per job in Gallatin County in 1999 was only $21,177 a year.Pape
|controlling growth It may be a sign that officials are
trying to rein in development.
In late June the Gallatin County Commission denied a request for a posh development near Gallatin Gateway that would have built 114 homes, 30 condos, a golf course and equestrian center on 2,820 acres. The houses were to be priced at $2 million or more each.
The commissioners said the proposal didnt fit the countys master plan. Developers called the master plan vague and threatened to sue and go ahead with a 450-unit rental resort facility and the golf course, which do not require commission approval.
admits hes part of the problem — he has brought a lot of the people into the canyon who have driven property and rents skyward.
Getting a grasp on the growth in the canyons population is difficult. The census only began breaking out Big Sky (population 1,033) in its 2000 report. Gallatin Countys population jumped 34 percent in 10 years, compared to a 12.9 percent increase for the state. Gallatin County land-use permits, like a building permit, go back five years and average about 40 residential permits a year. Twenty-two commercial permits have been issued in five years.
Pape says he believes growth in the canyon will slow and planning will improve.
Its kind of amazing, Pape says. As you get older and look at this thing its kind of hard to figure out where this things going.
This is a dream and they want a piece of it.Brett French can be reached at 657-1387, or at email@example.com
|Forest no longer a loggers haven
The largest landowner in the Gallatin Canyon is the federal government.
The Gallatin National Forest is composed of 1.8 million acres, only a portion of which embrace the canyon. But the canyon area has provided some of the most contentious debate on logging and land exchanges.
This was once a loggers forest. Right up through the 1970s and early 80s the forest produced a lot of wood in response to a mountain pine beetle infestation, says Steve Clark, acting timber management officer for the forest.
But over the intervening years, production has plummeted. In the early 1980s, the forest produced about 25 million board feet a year. Now the figure is closer to 6 million board feet.
Thats not good for the Forest Service, which had planned to use money from timber sales to fund the purchase of Big Sky Lumber Co. lands surrounded by the Gallatin National Forest. The purchase was outlined by the Gallatin Land Consolidation Act of 1998 to consolidate scattered private holdings within the forest.
The current sales for the BSL exchange are only about half the volume of what Congress, in its criteria, indicated we needed to put up, Clark says.
The act directed acquisition of about 55,100 acres of land in exchange for some federal lands, $4.15 million in purchase funds and $4.5 million in timber receipts.
So far, Clark says the Gallatin has three timber sales being logged. Out of three other sales, the paperwork is done on two but one is under litigation. The third sale will soon be advertised since the Forest Service won an appeal.
Unfortunately, the lumber market has slumped so the Forest Service is not earning as much money as originally planned from the sales. The inability to raise adequate funds for the purchase of the lands may require the forest to dip in to funds from timber sales on other forests, or to trade more forest land.
More than 700,000 acres of the Gallatin National Forest are protected as wilderness areas. Another 700,000 acres were proposed for roadless designation under former President Clintons plan, which is now being revisited by the Bush Administration. A roadless designation would ban road building, commercial logging and future mineral leasing.Brett French can be reached at 657-1387, or at firstname.lastname@example.org