Urban sprawl drives cowboys to the wall

MONTANA DAYS

You would think I was reaching for my holster. Conversation dies instantly and a dozen cowboy hats - that's everyone in the place - turn to see who is talking. "Oh shit," says the mean-looking guy down the bar to my right with the droopy moustache and giant hands. "That is a dirty word around here."

Half-way down Paradise Valley in south-west Montana, the Old Saloon (established 1902), with its dusty decor of antique spurs and horse tackle, is still a place where ranchers and cowboys gather in the evening and drink beer from the bottle. And the one thing that gets them riled up, second only to a property developer walking in, is someone uttering the word "sub- divide".

To these boys and to many other Montanans, sub-dividing is a new disease ravaging the state. Precisely because of its areas of extraordinary natural beauty, with the Rocky Mountain peaks, sweeping valleys and pristine rivers, outsiders are pouring in. But by coming in such numbers, these new immigrants to the West - the capuccino cowboys as some call them - threaten to spoil the very things they came to enjoy.

The phenomenon is most acute in this, most stunning, corner of the state. Many ranchers are selling out to the developers, who in turn sub-divide the properties into small plots and dot the landscape with houses.

Some newcomers are Hollywood names. Paradise Valley is home, for instance, to Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan (his wife) and Jeff Bridges. But most are ordinary Americans seeking relief from the urban crush.

Wally Wanes, a small-time rancher with 20 acres, leans on the bar of the Old Saloon and vents his resentment. "There ain't no place for cows no more, because of these sons of bitches and their houses. They're planting houses instead of grass. They move out here to live like we do and then change the rules when they get here. They're running us off, one by one".

His drinking partner, Delton Busby, is no more charitable about his new neighbours, whom he blames for recent tax increases. "The type of people who are moving in aren't really nice folk as far as I'm concerned. I don't care if I never have to meet them. They think we just fallen off the turnip wagon. They think we're nuts, because all that matters to them is money".

The influx - this and neighbouring counties are growing at 5 per cent a year - is also giving local government planners nightmares. Dale Beland, the county planner in nearby Bozeman, a once cosy but now sprawling college town that sits beneath the Big Sky ski area, is struggling to find ways of coping with the increasing demand for new roads, services and school places, without raising taxes. "The situation is critical", he says. "And I see absolutely no reason to expect that this is peaking".

Nor does everyone find the Utopia they have been hoping for when they arrive here. New jobs are scarce and living in the rural environment of the West can bring some nasty surprises.

Take the fracas that erupted in Bozeman when a group of new residents awoke to discover the beavers they were so proud to have in their back yards had built a damn in the local stream and flooded their basements. Outraged, they returned to urban type and demanded that the beavers be destroyed. In the end, the animals were relocated and the offending damn was dynamited.

Among others to have witnessed the changes is Mike Art, a Chicago emigre who bought a rundown old hotel and hot springs in Paradise Valley 25 years ago. Now it is a charming, four-star rated resort that is a favourite haunt of the local Hollywood residents. (Even so, the cowboys in the Old Saloon urge me to pay a visit).

For sale on the hotel reception desk are black-and-white postcards depicting a Fifties-looking family gazing at some flying saucers flying over a mountain landscape. The scene is meant to be Paradise Valley and the caption reads: "More Californians no doubt".

Mr Art says the transformation of the valley has happened mostly in the last three years. He attributes it partly to Robert Redford's historical film about a Montana family addicted to fly-fishing, A River Runs Through It, which was mostly filmed in this area. "People saw Redford's picture and said, `That's a place I'd like to move to.' What's happening now is that the old Montanans who have farmed here for decades have sold their souls. If someone was going to offer you a million dollars for the land wouldn't you take it?"

It should not be said no one benefits from the change. Mr Art admits: "Selfishly speaking, for us it's a positive thing. It's good for anyone here trying to start a business. But aesthetically, I'm sorry that where I used to see horses and cows grazing I now see `For Sale' signs."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test