MISSOULA — The city of Missoula this week purchased and acquired a long-anticipated corridor on Mount Dean Stone in the South Hills, saying that trail systems have gained added appreciation during the coronavirus pandemic.
The acquisition will grant access to roughly five miles of new trail leading from Pattee Canyon on the north face of Mount Dean Stone to the summit; it is expected to open to the public in the spring of 2021.
The Missoula City Council unanimously authorized the purchase at its meeting Monday night.
“Public lands and our outdoor space have always been a huge priority to us in the Missoula area, and ever more so now in the era of COVID, and I think we all have a greater appreciation for the fact that we live in such an amazing place, “ council member Stacie Anderson said. “We were able to get outside and walk with friends at a safe distance and let our dogs run and keep little moments of sanity during what has been a truly rough year.”
The acquisition of roughly 350 acres of open space land was purchased using $462,500 in specifically designated funds from the $15 million Open Space Bond passed by voters in 2018.
The city’s purchase also used $462,500 in funds from an anonymous open space estate gift, which helped the Five Valleys Land Trust close out the South Hills land deal.
The funding was matched by Five Valleys, which secured $1.2 million in real estate and trail donations and $370,000 in project facilitation donations that will likely help create more trails and assist in the transition of the land.
A trail loop known as the “High, Wide and Handsome Trail” in the corridor is at the center of the purchase. The 4.5-mile trail rises over 1,500 feet at an 8% grade.
“[It] is less steep than many of the trails around Missoula and makes it more accessible and suitable for a broader array of Missoula’s residents,” details on the purchase stated.
It will also connect to existing trails in the South Hills.
Councilmember Amber Sherrill campaigned for the 2018 Open Space Bond, which included the priority of securing access to Mount Dean Stone and trail construction.
“What was clear to me then is also clear to me now, which is that our community wants this to happen,” Sherrill said. “There’s no question in my mind that our open space and trails systems have become so critical in COVID. This is a critical buffer for wildfires as our climate continues changing, and this is also in the ecosystem as a really important connection for wildlife.”
Councilmember Jesse Ramos, who campaigned against the 2018 Open Space Bond, voted for the purchase, calling it a good use of the funds. But he advocated caution in how the funds are expended in the future.
“I’m asking that we kind of keep an eye on the balance of the bonds, so we don’t blow through it too quickly, and then we have to leverage the open space maintenance levy to fund another bond,” he said. “It then not only depletes the funds in the maintenance levy by using that, but it also is going to deprive the land of the maintenance that is definitely needed to keep it up.”
Before the opening of the property in the spring, Five Valleys, city conservation lands staff and other partners are working to “ensure the property is safe, accessible and meets city open space specifications,” according to details on the purchase.
“I have rarely found greater satisfaction and sense of accomplishment than supporting open space,” council member Jordan Hess said. “It’s really a joy. Putting together projects like this with city staff really is just a great opportunity to meet the values and needs of the community, and I’m happy to support this.”