There are some stories in the New West that seem to encompass many, if not all, the issues we are facing as an evolving region. One of those stories is the case of the Ameya Preserve, a large-scale luxury home community planned in Montana’s Paradise Valley.
In this five-part series, writer David Nolt explores the issues involved and the controversy surrounding the Ameya Preserve.
Fifty miles north of Yellowstone National Park, in Montana’s aptly named Paradise Valley, an ambitious North Dakota native and Wall Street millionaire named Wade Dokken is planning a unique luxury home community called the Ameya Preserve.
Unlike its brethren around the Rocky Mountain West, the Ameya Preserve will have no fancy golf course, no private ski hill, no Prada boutiques or mega-mansions behind high walls. Instead, there will be lots of wildlife, open space, energy efficient houses, and a host of cultural amenities of a decidedly high-brow ilk.
Dokken makes a rather bold claim: “I’m not a developer,” he says. “I’m a conservationist.” He touts his credentials as a liberal Democrat, and says the 300-plus-home Ameya Preserve, set on 9,500 acres of pristine ranchland, will be nothing less than “the most sustainable community ever built.”
In crucial respects, though, the Ameya Preserve project shares a great deal with other ultra-luxury developments in Montana and around the region. It promises to be an economic engine for the town of Livingston and surrounding Park County, just as the Yellowstone Club in nearby Big Sky has driven the economy of Gallatin County. It’s being marketed to wealthy people around the world who will likely spend only a few months or weeks a year there (a single lot at Ameya was the most expensive gift in this year’s Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, at a cool $2.3 million).
And Ameya has spurred emotional opposition from many locals. Some are upset at what they regard as misleading and hypocritical promises about conservation. Others are opposed to the proposed sale to Ameya of state lands that lie within the property. Still others decry the very idea of such a development taking place in the midst of rich wildlife habitat. But at the heart of the matter are complex and conflicted feelings about what kind of place Montana is, what it is becoming and who is bringing the change.