Voice of the River

Friend of the Gallatin: Leaving a Liquid Legacy

Friend of the Gallatin Rick Donaldson moves on from the Task Force board.

Volunteer. Sponsor. Board chair.

In his tenure as a Task Force supporter, Rick Donaldson has worn many hats. Whether collecting trash or approving organizational budgets, he’s brought the same focus and passion to whatever role he’s playing, and we’re much better off today than we were before he joined our organization.

Not long ago, Rick was bestowed with a new hat—grandfather—and it has him rethinking conservation and recommitting to protecting our beloved Gallatin.

“Having my first grandchild born into the world and into my life has made a profound change in how I view my conservation efforts,” Donaldson wrote in a previously published op-ed. “I’ve started thinking more long term and I’ve been searching for what can be done today to ensure that future generations could have and enjoy the amazing landscapes and river systems that are a part of our lives.”

With that thought in mind, Rick dove head first into his work with the Task Force. It became a second job, often requiring as much of his time as his primary gigs, grandfathering and helping his son Mike with his business, Gallatin River Guides, a local fly shop and guide service. 

Friend of the Gallatin River, Gallatin River Task Force

Rick became board chair at a time of rapid transition for both the Task Force and Big Sky, but that wasn’t all he did. Gallatin River Guides and the Donaldson family committed financially to the organization, reinvesting in the river that provided for them, holding the business and themselves accountable to the resource. Rick led a team at the annual Gallatin River Cleanup, not afraid to get his hands dirty and unwilling to leave the hard work to someone else. He became a true Friend of the Gallatin and ambassador for the Task Force and our work, but more than that he led by example, showing the sacrifices that it takes to live and work more sustainably in this headwaters community.

Always the optimist, Rick hesitates before saying, “I’m worried about what’s next,” referring to increasing land development, questions about water supply, ongoing water-quality issues, increased usage, and our fragile watershed’s ability to absorb it all. “In just the last six months, the change is obvious, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.”

As a Gallatin River resident and landowner, Rick’s worry hits particularly close to home. It shows up unannounced over morning coffee; it stops by to visit the office while he’s pouring over balance sheets; and it rushes by him on the highway as he attempts to pull out of his driveway.

Rick knows that success will not come easy, but that doesn’t stop him from being proactive and searching for solutions. “As I contemplate the challenges in dealing with the projected growth of our region, climate change, and potential threats to water quality and quantity, it is evident that we need to employ tools that will keep our watersheds healthy for centuries to come. This is the legacy that we can choose to leave behind for our children and their children.”

Friend of the Gallatin River, Gallatin River Task Force

And this is the legacy that the Gallatin River Task Force is working to protect. Now that Rick is moving on from the board, we have big shoes to fill, but we also have a precedent. If Big Sky is going to adequately address our water issues, we will need hundreds of Rick Donaldsons. We will need every individual and every business and every visitor to commit to conservation and join Rick in thinking long term. It will take sacrifice and doing the hard work, but the reward comes in knowing future generations will also have this river to enjoy.

This article originally appeared in our 2020 Annual Report. Become a Friend of the Gallatin today.


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