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Flathead family awarded for protecting land and water

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | May 19, 2023 12:00 AM

The Grosswiler family has been in the Flathead Valley for seven generations. The majority of them still live on the family property in Kalispell — a beautiful stretch of 396 acres of farmland, open space, and critical habitat for migratory birds.

In 2017 and 2018, the Grosswiler and Marvin families placed their land under a conservation easement with the Flathead Land Trust. This year, they were honored for the decision.

They were among five individuals and families who received the 2023 Montana Watershed and Wetland Stewardship Award, given to them by the Montana Watershed Coordination Council and the Montana Wetland Council. The awards are based on leadership and dedication in protecting land and water statewide.

“The Watershed and Wetland Stewardship Award recipients are shining examples of the front-line work that catalyzes Montana’s watershed and community vitality,” Zach Owen, the board chair of the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, said in a press release.

The family not only conserved their land, but also worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to grant public access on a portion of it, creating the West Valley Bird and Wildlife Viewing Area. The area, which overlooks the property, has parking, a few benches, a tower viewer and is popular for birders.

“We can't give enough credit and thanks to our willing landowners for wanting to conserve their lands and enter into a conservation easement, and especially on top of that allow some public access,” said Paul Travis, the executive director of the Flathead Land Trust.

Just west of Kalispell, a series of wetlands and ponds formed from glaciation exist and are extremely good bird habitat, according to Jen Guse, the communications, outreach and special projects coordinator with the Flathead Land Trust. Alongside bird habitat, the land is also rich farmland.

“Part of our mission is to maintain the culture of farming and conserving farmland in the area”,” Guse said, speaking for the Land Trust.

According to Tanner Marvin, a sixth-generation member of the family, growing up on hundreds of acres of farmland was a wonderful experience; it made sense to protect the land to ensure that opportunity was available for future generations as well.

“[I loved] just being able to do anything from climbing tractors to shooting gophers,” Marvin said. Marvin traveled to Helena in April to receive the award on behalf of the family.

The conservation easements not only help protect the land, but also their family legacy, according to Marvin.

Catherine Baier, Marvin’s aunt, spoke to the Inter Lake about the rich heritage of the family, adding to their passion for the land. The family has historically farmed the land and still does, with some of the land rented out. At one point, they had a massive dairy operation as well.

According to Baier, her grandfather came to the Flathead Valley in the late 1800s from Switzerland and homesteaded the land. Today, her grandfather’s legacy lives on. The conservation easement gives the family peace that that legacy will continue to live on.

“I am very lucky that I have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren who are all around here for the most part,” Baier said.

The Flathead Land Trust nominated the family for their wetland stewardship in March. The award was given to Marvin on April 26 by Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena.

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.