The Arnold Bolle Award

Bob Knight - 1997

Bob Knight
Bob Knight

Missoula would not hold its outstanding reputation for open land conservation without the passionate, tenacious efforts of the late Robert “Bob” Knight. Bob’s contributions to Missoula’s environmental movement interweaved real estate and conservation law in a way that would unite private and public entities to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of land from future development and degradation.

Though he was born in a US Navy hospital in Philadelphia, Bob grew up and spent his formative years in the West with his family, cultivating a deep love for the region that would later influence his life’s work in conservation. There he found a mentor in Rollie Rodgers, Colorado’s first public defender, and gradually worked his way up the legal ladder. He met his wife Ellen at Colorado College and would reconnect with her later at the University of Michigan where he studied law and the impacts of black lung disease while she studied in the Natural Resources school. They married in 1969 and, after a year in Denver, moved to Montana in 1971 where Bob had visited often throughout his upbringing. Together, they would spend decades contributing to Missoula’s environmental and civic progress.

One of Bob’s greatest contributions to Montana was using his exceptional skills from both his real estate practice and law school studies to navigate complex land deals between multiple stakeholders. He was essential in crafting the state’s first conservation easement law–allowing for hundreds of thousands of acres in open land and wildlife habitat to be preserved and protected for future generations. He also played a role in the landmark acquisition and protection of Mount Jumbo, along with the development of the Missoula Riverfront Trail and Pineview Park. In 1972 he and Ellen also helped establish the Five Valleys River Park Association, now named Five Valleys Land Trust in Missoula. The nonprofit was dedicated to working with Montana landowners and the City’s Open Space Program to protect open space and agricultural land in the valley and beyond. He co-wrote and published An Attorney’s Guide to Montana Conservation Easements in 1981 and served on the Montana Board of Regents from 1982-1984.

Bob received the Nature Conservancy’s Oak Leaf Award and the Missoula Conservation Roundtable’s Arnold Bolle Award for his outstanding service to Missoula’s land and water.

When he passed in 2023, his obituary made his legacy clear: “He leaves behind a beautiful and enduring legacy that is written on the landscape of Missoula and western Montana, and in the hearts of his friends and loved ones.”

By Kalle Fox

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