by Laura Katzman

We are grateful that the Grosswiler family placed almost 400 acres of their land in the West Valley in conservation easements with Flathead Land Trust in 2017 and 2018. The conserved land has amazing conservation values with its rich farm soils and unique 45-acre pothole wetland that is critical for tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl, over 20 species of shorebirds, and hundreds of Sandhill Cranes each year. The conserved land safeguards part of the only known fall staging area for Sandhill Cranes in the Flathead Valley. We are privileged that this family has also allowed for construction of a public bird viewing area overlooking the pothole wetland on the conserved land. The public bird viewing area that opened last fall has quickly become a popular birding site in the Flathead.

Flathead Land Trust worked with Catherine Baier and Cindy Marvin of the Grosswiler family to put the conservation easements in place, but many in the family were behind the conservation endeavor. Cindy’s son, Tanner, helped initiate conservation of the family land. Tanner and his family live on the property that ultimately was conserved. He loved the sandhill cranes using his family’s land and did not want to see the portion of the farm so important to them developed or subdivided. Flathead Land Trust had been reaching out to the family letting them know about conservation options for their land, but it was Tanner who reached out to Flathead Land Trust to learn more about conserving the family land after attending a talk Flathead Land Trust gave about sandhill cranes for the West Valley Naturalist’s Association. Catherine’s daughter, Sara Long, was also quite supportive and Catherine’s Aunt Grace Criswell was quite proud of the family’s decision.

The Grosswiler family has a long and rich farming history in the Flathead beginning with a 160-acre homestead in the 1880s. The family gradually increased their holdings to over 3,000 acres. The family has grown alfalfa, wheat, barley, oats, and sometimes hay on their property. Just to the south of the conserved land the Grosswiler family ran a large dairy operation from 1960 to 2006. When the dairy was at its highest production levels they had 700 milking cows. The family has also grazed 600 to 1,000 beef cattle on their land. Over time, the family has been selling portions of their land including what is now Rebecca Farms and land immediately west of Kalispell Kidsport which is now in the city limits of Kalispell and is being developed into housing. The Grosswiler family still farms 1,379 acres in the West Valley.

Because of these strong ties to the land, the family wanted to preserve their agricultural legacy by keeping some of their farmland intact and allowing for future agricultural production. Tanner said “continuing farming in my great-grandpa’s honor is very meaningful to me, but more so, to know my children can continue that tradition so we will have multiple generations living his legacy is incredible.” The family’s legacy will also live on forever in the eyes of school children as the public bird viewing area will serve as an educational site for local schools as it is ideally situated only about two miles from the city of Kalispell and close to 26 schools including the Flathead Valley Community College.

The Flathead Audubon Society thanks the Grosswiler family for conserving such a special place in the Flathead and the gift of the bird viewing area for the public. It will be appreciated for generations to come!