Friday, September 18, 2009

Travelers for Open Land Launches First State-Wide Collaborative Funding Program to Conserve Open Land

Helena — The first state-wide program of its kind to seek voluntary contributions from travelers for private land conservation will be unveiled in a presentation at the Montana State Capitol Rotunda today at 1 p.m. Travelers for Open Land is a unique partnership between the Montana Innkeepers Association and other lodging properties, the Montana Association of Land Trusts, the Montana Community Foundation, Travel Montana, and the traveling public.

“Great landscapes are increasingly at risk,” said Jonathan Tourtellot, director of National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations. “Travelers for Open Land offers an opportunity for all visitors to help protect a destination that they love. Montana’s initiative sets an example for places everywhere.”

Research by the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research has shown that the primary reasons people visit Montana are the vast open landscapes, river corridors, ranchlands, wildlife habitat, and tremendous outdoor recreation. Ten million annual visitors provide great economic and social benefits, but visitation also presents the challenge and responsibility of supporting conservation of irreplaceable and unforgettable Montana landscapes.

“I had been looking at research that clearly shows Montana’s top assets are our natural horizons and I asked myself who is protecting these assets?” said Mike Scholz, founder of the program. “Montanans have been getting behind land trust efforts and our program gives visitors the opportunity to add their support. We created Travelers for Open Land specifically based on the research we were seeing and created the voluntary program to protect Montana’s open lands.”

The purpose of Travelers for Open Land is to give visitors an opportunity to help preserve the core reasons Montana is a compelling place to visit and live. Funds will be collected either as an add-on to the room charge or with a special envelope available in each room.

“This program not only supports the Montana tourism and recreation strategic plan, but also complements the Montana brand, specifically the primary reason people come to Montana, which is to experience our spectacular unspoiled nature,” said Betsy Baumgart, administrator of Travel Montana Promotions Division. “We've supported Travelers from the start and we salute the individuals and organizations that have taken a unique idea and developed it into a national model of land protection and tourism promotion.”

When visitors stay at a participating property, lodging owners will seek a small $1 or $2 donation in support of the program. Member properties for the voluntary program include hotels, dude ranches, bed and breakfasts, outfitters with lodging, and other tourism-related properties and businesses.

“This is a progressive and forward-looking initiative that complements the vision of the lodging professionals who want to do their part in protecting open spaces for future generations,” said Stuart Doggett, executive director for the Montana Innkeepers Association. “Leaders in our industry understand the need to plan ahead and foster the unique features that lure visitors to our state, and that is why we find such strong support for the Travelers for Open Land program.”

As funds accumulate, they are awarded as grants to non-profit land trusts to protect valuable open lands throughout the state and to maintain a vibrant hospitality industry.

“The Montana experience is invariably an outdoor experience tied to open lands,” said Glenn Marx, executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. “Travelers for Open Lands will be a huge asset in our ability to obtain voluntary conservation easements that can help maintain working farms and ranches, protect water quality, wildlife habitat, preserve open lands, and retain the values that make Montana such an attractive place to live, work and recreate.”

Travelers for Open Land is aligned with keeping tourism as a major economic force in Montana by conserving what are its major attractions—mountains, streams, wildlife, sight seeing and outdoor recreation.

“We’re on the verge of creating something extraordinary and it’s a completely voluntary program—from the landowner, to the hotel, to the guest,” added Scholz. “The small donations will all add up over time from travelers wanting to preserve Montana’s natural horizons.”

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