Highland Glen and the Kurks

Bozeman, Montana

 It doesn’t take much for Darrell and Sandy Kurk to get their cows moving down pasture. In a chorus both practiced and improvised, they yell “c’mon girls!” For percussion, Darrell shakes a bucket of grain. “They’re spoiled,” he said.

As the annual parade — this year it was held on Oct. 1 — crashes through the colorful foliage in the creek bottom, runners, hikers, and bikers pause to watch and listen from well worn trails above.

Darrell and Sandy Kurk have found themselves in the center of the venn diagram of old and new West. The Kurks lease the grazing rights for the Highland Glen Nature Preserve, the 430-acre block of land owned by Bozeman Health since 1959.

For much of the Kurk’s history working the land, they shared it only with wildlife.

In 2013, Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital teamed up with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust to dig a network of trails throughout the property, and the pasture became a playground.

“Ninety-five percent of people here aren’t a problem, it’s the 5% that cause you headaches,” said Darrell as he untangled strands of a barbed wire fence that were likely twisted together by a trail user looking for a shortcut.

People build bridges and dam the creek, or trespass on the old homestead at the north end of the property. The Kurk’s phone numbers are posted at trailheads in the event a gate is left open and a cow escapes. 

The cows have names like Hannah and Jellybean, and the Kurk’s recognize all 26 of them. Their calves, futures to be determined, have not yet been named. Some will be raised for beef, some to one day raise their own, but whatever their futures hold, their summer in Bozeman has been productive. Darrell estimates the calves put on 400 pounds since he dropped them off in June. The cows and their calves will spend a couple more weeks near Bear Canyon before moving to the Kurk’s place in Billings, where they will stay for the winter.

LINK: Seasonal Shift: Moving cows on the edge of Bozeman