Hidden Hollow Hideaway Cattle & Guest Ranch Selected for Montana Leopold Conservation Award

by Colter Brown

Hidden Hollow Hideaway Cattle & Guest Ranch is the 2021 recipient of the Montana Leopold Conservation Award®.


Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land.


Sand County Foundation and American Farmland Trust present the award in Montana with the State of Montana, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Rangeland Resources Committee.  


Hidden Hollow Hideaway Cattle & Guest Ranch, located near Townsend in Broadwater County, is owned by the Flynn family. The late Kelly Flynn, who served in the Montana Legislature from 2010 to 2018, passed away earlier this year. The ranch is operated by his wife Jill Flynn and the families of their daughters, Shannon and Siobhan. The family receives $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.


“The Leopold Conservation Award provides an excellent opportunity to recognize private land stewardship in Montana,” said DNRC Director Amanda Kaster. “The recipients of this award demonstrate leadership, sustainability, and highlight overcoming obstacles in the face of adversity.”


“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”


“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Montana recipient,” said John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”


Earlier this year, Montana landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.


Among the many outstanding Montana landowners nominated for the award were finalist Pete and Meagan Lannan of Livingston in Park County, and Peterson Angus Ranch of Drummond in Granite County.


Last year’s award recipient was C Lazy J Livestock, owned by Craig and Conni French of Malta in Phillips County. Bill and Dana Milton of Roundup in Musselshell County were the first recipients in 2019.


The Montana Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, State of Montana, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Rangeland Resources Committee, Sand County Foundation, Sibanye-Stillwater, TC Energy, Northwest Farm Credit Services, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, World Wildlife Fund, C Lazy J Livestock Inc., Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, McDonald’s, Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, and Soil and Water Conservation Society.  


In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”


Sand County Foundation and American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 23 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.



Kelly Flynn taught his daughters to raise a baby lamb, ride a horse, and ultimately, run a ranch.


His land ethic was passed down from relatives who carved a living from the land since the 1860s. He recalled his aging parents pulling weeds on hot days. With those values etched in his mind, he spent a life caring for livestock, wildlife, and 6,000 acres of meadows, creeks and forests.


With his father and brother, and later his wife Jill and daughters Shannon and Siobhan, he developed a paradise for hunters and summer vacationers at Hidden Hollow Hideaway Cattle & Guest Ranch. He took pride in showing hundreds of visitors that you can log timber, raise livestock, and still experience a beautiful landscape.


In Kelly’s Leopold Conservation Award application, he humbly referred to himself as the ranch’s “temporary steward.” He ran the ranch and imparted wisdom until he passed away on March 3, 2021.


A stellar track career took him away to college, and later to Denmark, but he returned to the ranch and mountains he loved. His early conservation efforts centered around removing noxious weeds to maintain pastures for cattle and wildlife habitat. He took his fight against weeds, like Leafy spurge and Canadian thistle, to neighboring parcels owned by federal land agencies unable to fund weed control.


When pine beetles killed thousands of trees on the ranch, the Flynns removed the dead timber and reseeded grass mixes that would compete with long-dormant noxious weed seeds. These and other timbered areas created attractive park-like settings for guests to hike and view wildlife. Stewarding these timber resources made it more difficult for wildfire to catastrophically ravage the landscape.  


Weed control efforts combined with a deferred rotational grazing system created better forage for livestock. Ecologically, the ranch responded with an increase in turkeys, whitetail deer, bluebirds, chokecherry and snowberry. The conservation gains on the landscape also improved the ranch’s financial stability.


Kelly’s concern for the health of the land went well beyond his property. As a member of the Montana Legislature from 2011 to 2019, he chaired the Fish Wildlife & Parks Committee and championed conservation legislation. He successfully passed a bill that established the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, which provides $2 million in annual grants to reduce and eliminate noxious weeds on high-value wildlife habitats.


In his award application, Kelly highlighted this Aldo Leopold quote: “I do not imply that this philosophy of land was always clear to me. It is rather the end result of a life journey.”


His application read, “I feel the same way. As I grew up over those years, I learned from those who went before me – my mom and dad, my brothers and sisters. Over time, my philosophy of stewardship shared and grew and now in the twilight of my life I’m content to do my best to quietly steward the land as best I can.”  


There’s little doubt that Kelly was the type of landowner that Leopold had in mind when he wrote, “A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke, he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”


For the betterment of all, Kelly Flynn wrote his signature on Montana’s landscape.



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