Bozeman, Mont.: Big, Technicolor Skies

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Photo by Sean Sperry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of sustainable communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2014 installment:8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

Bozeman, Montana. It’s one of those cities people visit for the skiing or hiking, or just for the spectacular mountain views, and never want to leave. The region’s rugged Western vibe makes the past almost palpable, and one can easily imagine the Shoshone, Arapaho, Lakota and other native people who once ranged and rendezvoused in the region. Equally easy to imagine are the prospectors and settlers who flooded the Montana Territory gold fields and the cattle drives that delivered huge herds to Gallatin Valley.

Bozeman sits on a high plain surrounded by six mountain ranges. It is about 90 miles from Yellowstone National Park and home to Montana State University (MSU), the community’s largest employer. Numerous high-tech and biotech companies now call Bozeman home, as do the Gibson Guitar corporation, Planet Natural gardening supplies and Simms Fishing Products. Radiant Engineering began there as a solar-energy company in the 1970s, and it now sells its patented energy-saving inventions worldwide.

“As a new student at MSU in 1970, I was stunned by the Technicolor sunsets that fill the sky and light up the Bridger Mountains with alpenglow,” says resident Alice Flynn. “This town has carefully maintained its historic homes, and people all over town avidly grow flowers and gardens that show their pride. It is walkable, lively and, winter or summer, people gather in the heart of downtown.”

With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country (about 3 percent) and predictions of expanding job growth, Bozeman’s economy is humming along. Housing is at a premium and creative boomtown lodging solutions are a part of the Bozeman story.

“People rent garages, sofas, spare rooms — wherever they can lay their heads,” says Blake Maxwell, editor of The Bozeman Magpie, an alternative online news source he founded in 2010. “Finding housing is just part of navigating the challenges of living here.” For those who successfully navigate those challenges, though, life is rich.

“Most people in Bozeman are interested in being outdoors as much as possible,” says E.J. Porth, communications and outreach manager at Gallatin Valley Land Trust, which works with private landowners to provide stewardship of their farms and ranches. “Everyone here seems to own a dog that they take camping, biking, hiking, fishing — all big pastimes here.”

The Community Food Co-op, a cooperatively owned grocery store, specializes in organic foods and Montana-produced meats and vegetables. Beef from grass-fed cattle and wild game, such as antelope, deer, elk and moose, make up an abundance of healthy meat choices. The zero-waste Amaltheia Organic Dairy on the city’s outskirts produces up to 2,000 pounds weekly of its goat cheese, which is now distributed throughout the United States.

Weekly concerts on Main Street and performances by the symphony, opera, and theater and ballet companies provide creative nourishment for those who can tear themselves away from the outdoors. The world-renowned Museum of the Rockies houses some of the most famous dinosaur specimens in the world, including tyrannosaurus and triceratops fossils, and the American Computer and Robotics Museum celebrates “brains and thinking machines.”

Stats: Bozeman, Montana

Population: 38,860
Climate: 32” annual avg. precip.; January avg. high: 35 degrees F; July avg. high: 73 degrees F
Median Household Income: $44,818
Median Home Price: $259,000

K.C. Compton is an editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publication, GRIT. She has visited 44 U.S. states, and sees great places and meets great people everywhere she goes. Find her on Google+.

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