A Montana rancher stands his ground against subdivision

  • Gliko's 1,800-acre ranch near Belt, Montana will remain free from development even after his death. ANNE SHERWOOD

  • Vernon Gliko and his "family," Tippy. ANNE SHERWOOD

 

Name Vernon Gliko

Age 86

Hometown Belt, Montana

Occupation Farmer/rancher

He Says "They were friendly people back then. Everybody was trying to help everybody because they were in the same situation. Well, now, you know, you may not even know your neighbor."

Biggest change in his lifetime Transition from using horses to tractors

Known for Getting hit by a bolt of lightning as a boy

Has had Five hip replacements, three knee replacements, and "lots of bumps and bruises."

Vernon Gliko has lived along central Montana's Belt Creek for all his 86 years. His vision is shot, he's on chemotherapy for colon cancer, and the passage of time has left a lot of sadness in its wake.

"My family is a dog and two cats," he says. His wife died a few years ago at the age of 83, and tears well in his eyes when he speaks about it. "From that day on, the world just changed completely."

Gliko lives in a simple 1950s ranch house near the town of Belt, 23 miles southeast of Great Falls. He still works his ranch - 1,800 acres of hills and prairie - although it's a much smaller operation than it once was. Every other day, he climbs into his tractor and brings hay to his four cows and two horses.

He's not entirely alone; neighbors from Belt check on him regularly. But a visit from a reporter and photographer provides a welcome opportunity for him to sit down in his favorite living room chair and share some old stories.

His bright blue eyes light up as he describes a hardscrabble childhood. His mother died when he was 6, and he and his brother and sister were left to fend for themselves in a two-room log cabin while their father - a Croatian immigrant - worked in the fields. "It wasn't one of these fancy cabins - it was pretty rustic," he says, recalling winter mornings when he had to chip the ice off the water bucket in the kitchen. "I don't know if we ever took a bath."

Gliko made it to the eighth grade before his father pulled him out of school to work in the fields. As long as he could pick rocks and dig postholes, his strong back was more useful than an educated mind. Land was real wealth, and Gliko's homesteader father was willing to share his riches - Gliko, his brother and his sister were each left their own ranch upon his passing.

Despite hardships worthy of a prairie Dickens, Gliko looks back at his youth with fondness. "I think I've done things that very few people have done, as a young kid," he says. There was the time he and his father took a steam train to Chicago to sell their cattle. The time a lightning bolt knocked him unconscious for eight hours. The time he gelded a horse that was to appear onstage in Hollywood.

"I'd love to go back. Even as hard as it was," he smiles, explaining that the everyday struggle went hand-in-hand with a neighborly warmth that's hard to come by today. "Now it's no fun anymore."

Gliko didn't inherit his father's disdain toward education, but he shares his fiercely protective love of the land. He recently agreed to donate his ranch as a 1,800-acre conservation easement to the Montana Land Reliance.

When asked why, he points to a road cutting across the hillside on the other side of Belt Creek. Forty or more houses will be built along the ridgeline. "I've never seen so much greed in my life," he says, adding that the houses will cost between $500,000 and $1,000,000.

"I think they're crazy. These aren't local people. I think they have no idea how the wind blows."

Jay Erickson, managing director of the Montana Land Reliance, lauds Gliko's donation.

"He didn't need the tax deduction, he really didn't need to do estate planning - he just wanted to see that protected," says Erickson, explaining that the land is home to upland game birds like sharptail and Hungarian partridge. "Somebody like Vernon, who essentially gets back just his peace of mind that his property will always be a ranch - those folks don't come along every day."

We're all just caretakers of the land, anyway, according to Gliko. "Who does it really belong to? To humanity, that's all."


The author is a freelance writer in Bozeman, Montana.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.