“Whitefish Trail Part of Goguen’s Daily Life” Whitefish Pilot 8/22/2012

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Whitefish Trail part of Goguen’s daily life

Lisa Jones and Heidi Van Everen

 We got a chance to tag along on a media interview with Mike Goguen last week and enjoyed learning more about him and his connection to the Whitefish Trail. We joined him in his Whitefish home office — the upscale working space of a highly successful venture capitalist. But he looked like any other Northwest Montana resident, dressed in jeans with a few holes, a T-shirt, a ball cap and hiking boots.

For the Whitefish community, Goguen fulfills a role as a local philanthropist. He’s invested heavily in community businesses and organizations with specific attention to the Whitefish Trail project, where he has gifted easements, donated millions of dollars, and continues to work on land deals to provide permanent community access and trail expansion.

As his morning workout, Goguen hikes and mountain bikes the trail as much as he can.

“It’s a mood enhancer,” he explains. “It’s peaceful and centering. It’s easy to forget the external stresses or problems you’re wrestling with in day to day life.”

That personal connection is key for Goguen, for his roots with the outdoors go deep into his childhood. Growing up in New England, his fondest memories are climbing in the Maine mountains, tagging along behind his dad hunting in sometimes minus 10 weather.

A couple of decades later, after graduating from Stanford in California, he found his professional passion at the epicenter of the high tech hurricane. As a managing partner of Sequoia Capital (the original backer of Apple, Google, YouTube and LinkedIn, among many others) for more than 16 years, Goguen works at a nearly 24/7 pace. He’s aided more than 60 companies with start up or growth support and he currently sits on more than a dozen boards.

“I love my day job, but it’s very intense,” he explained. “I started really missing that part of my life — that escape outdoors.”

That missing piece provided the impetus to investigate Whitefish. Montana’s wilderness and wildlife nabbed him.

“Montana is one of those truly wild states with grizzlies, mountain lions, and wolves — things that could eat you,” he jests, confessing a love of hunting, horses, challenging outdoor adventures, and walking alone where wild animals roam.

Once he built his Two Bear Ranch house on Whitefish Lake more than a decade ago, it became his weekend home, not just a vacation spot for a few weeks each year. Before the advent of the Whitefish Trail, he hiked extensively on the school trust lands around Whitefish Lake, wanting to “know every square inch.”

And it turned out to be more than a weekend home, “Whitefish is a really special place and I wanted to be part of the community.”

He’s been busy doing just that. Most recently he invested in the new Casey’s because he loves our downtown and wanted to contribute a beautiful building and a great new attraction, and he’s donating new helicopters for the local search and rescue effort “because with a county so vast, these new machines can save precious minutes which can make the critical difference in saving a life.”

The Whitefish Trail brought an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“I like creating win-win situations,” he says. “At first I thought of putting my own trail through the property I bought for serenity and privacy, but once I saw all the positives of a public trail, I got very comfortable with it. Now that it’s implemented, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Now, he thrives on walking or mountain biking alone on the trail despite the potential for bear or mountain lion encounters. “There’s an exhilaration to have the senses amped up for alertness,” he muses. “People go through life not seeing or hearing what’s around them and take their surroundings for granted. When you’re alone, you observe everything, hear everything, and get more out of those moments in your life. You’re missing nothing when you’re hyper alert on a beautiful day.”

Goguen encourages other landowners to think open-mindedly about pursuing conservation projects.

“The feedback from the trail is so positive and overwhelming,” he says. “The trail strikes a nice balance between giving people access, but in no way risks spoiling areas. People get it, and what it’s for. It’s used by people who are there for the right reasons.”

Goguen, too, is one of those people on the trail for the right reasons. He echoes the sentiments of many trail users, by envisioning the path continuing around Whitefish Lake and up to Big Mountain. Even though he banks more money than most Whitefish residents, his outdoor heart ticks with the same beat. We are glad he is part of our community and the conservation legacy we are building.

Please join Goguen and hundreds of community supporters by becoming a WT Friend, corporate sponsor and/or volunteering your time. You can sign up at whitefishlegacy.org.

— Lisa Jones and Heidi Van Everen