With a number of projects in the works and a strong conservation legacy on the line, the Five Valleys Land Trust has tapped a trusted member to serve as its new executive director.
Whitney Schwab, who served as Five Valleys’ director of philanthropy for the past five years, replaces Jenny Zaso as the organization’s new chief.
Schwab sees a promising future for an organization that’s grown to become one of western Montana’s most successful land conservation groups.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of work underway, particularly on Mount Dean Stone and in our greater service area like the Flint Creek Valley,” Schwab said. “Five Valleys has a legacy of accomplishing important conservation, and we have a tremendous scope of work ahead. Our momentum is great, and so are our opportunities.”
Founded in 1972, Five Valley’s has conserved more than 70,000 acres across western Montana. It helped the city of Missoula acquire both Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel, and it has conserved river frontage in a number of locations, including the Alberton Gorge and the Rattlesnake Greenway, among others.
More recently, the organization has worked to acquire land in the South Hills of Missoula, a move that would conserve a ring of open space around the Missoula Valley. Schwab has led a number of outings to Dean Stone over the years in a push to raise awareness and move the project closer to completion.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work around our public access initiatives, not only on Dean Stone but further out into Missoula County as well,” Schwab said. “The management of the properties that we own is really important with people needing to connect to the land.”
Not all the work has taken place in Missoula proper. Five Valleys helped secure public access at the Rock Creek Confluence, and it played a role in closing the gaps in the Route of the Hiawatha on the Superior Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest.
Its conservation easements have also included a number of working farms and ranches. Schwab sees such projects as vital to succession planning and preserving western Montana’s agricultural roots.
“It’s something that’s really poignant for where we are in space and time,” said Schwab. “We’re thrilled to have the momentum we have around our projects, and we don’t see that waning.”