Montana Guitar Festival Promotes Land Conservation

Here’s a fresh twist on the guitar festival/workshop—hold it at a four-star dude ranch in northwestern Montana, and donate the proceeds to land conservation and music education. And get Pat Metheny to come, would ya?

The first annual Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival & Workshop, held Aug. 28-Sept 4, accomplished just that, buoyed by the can-do spirit of Bigfork, Montana, which has no mayor or city government and is run by volunteer citizens. The Festival was held at Flathead Lake Lodge, a famous Rocky Mountain dude ranch on the banks of the largest lake in the American West.

Bigfork resident David Feffer created the nonprofit Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation to help protect the ten-million-acre Rocky Mountain ecosystem called the Crown of the Continent, which provides headwaters for three oceans and a critical habitat for grizzly bears and other endangered species. Feffer invited the Montana Land Reliance (MLR) to be on the grounds every day promoting its voluntary conservation easement program.

Feffer also partnered with the National Guitar Workshop to bring world-renowned guitarists to this town of 1,515 people, including Pat Metheny,  Lee RitenourAlex DeGrassiDoug SmithJody FisherScott TennantAndrew LeonardMatt Smith, and Mark Dziuba.

Voluntary conservation easement allows land owners to leave a legacy of conservation and receive a tax deduction. Land ownership comes with a bundle of rights such as the right to subdivide, construct buildings, irrigate, harvest timber or restrict access. A landowner may donate the whole bundle or just a few rights to a land trust like the Montana Land Reliance. The donation provides the landowner with a tax deduction and also the security of  knowing the land has been placed in trust and will be protected permanently.

HeadCount talked with Mark Schiltz, Western Manager for Montana Land Reliance:

Why did Montana Land Reliance partner with the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival and Workshop?

The festival was a great forum for us to meet people and share with them our mission: to provide permanent protection for private lands that are significant for agricultural production, fish and wildlife habitat, and open space.

The immediate accomplishments of MLR’s conservation work are measured in miles of stream banks and acres of land and habitat protected. The lasting benefits of our work are the perpetuation of a lifestyle and economy that rely on responsibly managed private land and increasingly valuable Montana open spaces that will continue to nourish the spirit of future generations.

MLR has permanently protected 830,000 acres of critical land in Montana including 17,667 acres in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem which includes the “Crown of the Continent."

Were the COC Festival attendees responsive to your message ?

Yes, we met many attendees and were able to spread the word about the conservation work we have done throughout the great state of Montana.  We also led a group on a guided hike of the Jewel Basin Hiking Area and in the process showcased fourteen of our conservation easements (including some of my family’s land) in the Flathead Valley.

Photos by William Feffer - 1. festival participants, 2. Lee Ritenour with students, 3. Flathead Lake.

Debra is the singer/guitarist for Devi and attended the festival as a journalist and faculty member.