Jeff and Judy Cornell donated a conservation easement on their 27 acres along the Stillwater River northwest of Whitefish in 2000. The property borders over a half mile of the Stillwater River and contains valuable sedge and shrub wetlands and riparian forest. These quality riparian forest and wetland communities, plus a large agricultural meadow and small pond, provide exceptional habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and serve as excellent winter range for deer and moose. The conservation easement ensures the protection of these ecological values in an area where surrounding lands are threatened with residential development.
The Cornells enjoyed their land and its natural values for over 30 years. As Judy said just after placing the conservation easement on their land, “Nearly every day of the year, Jeff and I walk with our dogs on our property along the Stillwater River. We do it in all seasons and weather, and so the rhythm of place has become recognizable to us. In spring, we watch the return of the red-winged black birds and the reappearance of does and last year’s fawns in our just-greening fields. The night walks fill with the sound of snipe and in recent years we have heard and seen sandhill cranes in the mornings and evenings. The river’s flooding is a wildcard of the season, yet without regard, the daily competitions among nesting goldeneye and hooded mergansers are decided in May before our asparagus appears. Each month has its events. Like most homeowners, we think ours is a unique and wonderful place to live. However, Jeff and I understand that we won’t always be privileged to live here. We are part of the place’s rhythm, too, with our arrival and eventual departure. So when we walk through the fields where more houses would surely have been built, we think about what we have done by placing a conservation easement on our property. It seems unbelievable that we can and have taken an action that will enforce our idea of stewardship on these 27 acres forever. The prospect of our departure is slightly easier to bear knowing that so much else will continue just as it is this spring and through all of the Stillwater’s seasons.”
The Cornells sold their property in 2015 to Esther Barnes and Joe Brega who were thrilled with the conservation values the Cornells had stewarded and protected. In their search for property they did not know much about conservation easements or seek out a property with a conservation easement. Esther and Joe wanted a property that provided peace, quiet, beauty and solitude. When they came across the 27-acre property protected with a Flathead Land Trust conservation easement they fell in love with the river and the wildlife that it attracted. Esther and Joe have always been proponents of conservation and felt the conservation easement was the perfect way by which to conserve the wildlife that existed and thrived on the property. It only made sense, they believed, that one of the most beautiful places that exists, this stretch along the Stillwater River, be conserved in perpetuity.
Since buying the property, Esther and Joe have appreciated the peace it provides after a long day’s work and the opportunity to unwind and enjoy watching the ducks, beavers, otters, deer, turkeys, bald eagles and other wildlife on the property. The property has encouraged them to take in and appreciate the simple things… the crickets, the leaves blowing in the wind, the stars at night or the sunrises in the morning. It’s a gift to just sit outside and enjoy nature. It’s also a gift to the Flathead community as the open space, wildlife and scenic values have been protected forever. These are qualities that drew Esther and Joe to northwest Montana to begin with and are what keep this such an incredible place to live for us all.