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The Montana Land Reliance partners with Creston farmer to preserve historic farm

| November 22, 2023 11:45 AM


A 731-acre Creston-area farm will be preserved for future generations with the help of the Montana Land Reliance (MLR).

The MLR announced the completion of a conservation easement with Myron and Vicky Mast on their property located east of Kalispell last week.

Representing one of the largest intact farms in the Flathead Valley, the Mast property contains a varied terrain that includes productive cropland, sub-irrigated riparian pasture and forestland, and a portion of Mill Pond, a high pool extension of the Flathead River.

The Mast property also adjoins Montana Hwy 35 in Creston, making this one of the most visible conservation easements in the Flathead Valley and a big win for community agriculture as the farm is now permanently protected from subdivision and development.

In 1930, Myron’s father Silas Mast purchased the first 320-acre portion of his farm property from the family of Kalispell founder Charles E. Conrad. The property was a part of the Conrad Buffalo Ranch and home to the bison herd destined to be the genetic nucleus of the bison currently on The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Bison Range in Moiese, MT.

Over his lifetime, Silas purchased more adjoining tracts of land to the farm. Myron credits the farm to his parents’ hard work and foresight to keep expanding. Myron says, “They had to go out on a limb and made plenty of sacrifices.” Looking back, he adds, “We were poor but didn’t know it.”

Myron has fond memories of growing up and, like most farm kids, he also worked hard. He recalls, “We would finish milking the cows and run to catch the bus for school.”

Following Mast family tradition, Myron not only purchased more land over the years but looked to permanently protect the farm with a conservation easement. “Dad always believed in keeping farmland open,” Myron said.

“He instilled in me the importance of keeping our family farm together.”

The conservation easement will keep all 731 acres intact permanently while also allowing Myron to continue to farm and ranch the way he wants. He grows hay and small grains like wheat, oats, and barley, as Myron describes, “Kind of like the old-timers did.” In the past, Myron also pastured up to 500 cow-calf pairs on the property’s wet bottomland and he still represents one of the last remaining fully diversified producers in the Flathead Valley.

Myron began talking to MLR about a conservation easement in 2014. Myron admits that it took a while to finalize the easement, and says, “I contemplated it for a long time.” Vicky Mast, Myron’s wife jokes, “Myron’s a bit of a procrastinator!” Mast adds “The conservation easement allows us to farm and ranch how we would anyway, and our children, Scott and Nicole, are also in favor of it.”

Ultimately, the project received funding through both the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Land Easement program and MLR’s Richard and Grace Blanchet Fund. The Blanchets were local farmers who protected their property with conservation easements and generously left their estate to MLR to protect additional farmland in the Flathead Valley.

“Myron and his family came to MLR wanting their family farming tradition to continue with the land,” says Mark Schiltz, MLR’s Western Manager in Bigfork.

Scott Mast, Myron and Vicky’s son, is actively involved in the farm operation. He also joined a local ad hoc group that includes MLR, the Flathead Land Trust, local agricultural producers, and concerned citizens working to find a local source of money to help fund easement projects to maintain the rural feel of the valley by keeping land in production.

“We are rapidly losing the scenic open rural landscapes that we all love to call home,” said Schiltz. “We need to be creative to find financial tools that help families like the Masts protect their property.”

In the meantime, Myron hopes that his decision to permanently protect his property will encourage farmers and other landowners to do the same. He says, “I like to look at the mountains without a house in the way.” He’s certainly not the only one.

Founded in Montana in 1978, MLR has grown to be one of the largest private nonprofit land trusts in the country. MLR has partnered with nearly 1,000 families to protect over 1.3 million acres of private land that forms the fabric of Montana’s local communities. To learn more visit www.mtlandreliance.org or call Mark Schiltz at 406-837-2178.