MISSOULA — A new plan outlining future land use west of Reserve Street looks to guide Missoula’s growth over the next few decades. Along the way, it also looks to restore one of the valley’s long-lost features.
A free flowing Grant Creek.
“When it arrives on the site it’s a ditch,” said Jason King, a consultant with Dover, Kohl and Partners. “It’s in a trench and there’s very little vegetation around it. Grazing happens all around it.”
After several workshops, a vision around the Mullan Area Master Plan has begun to emerge. And while the process has a ways to go, the document will eventually set the stage for future growth and development between Mullan Road and West Broadway.
While much of the plan looks to housing, streets, parks and commercial development, it also considers Grant Creek, a much forgotten tributary to the Clark Fork River in the Missoula Valley.
As proposed, the plan would create a buffer as wide as 150 feet along the old stream bed. The creek would be removed from its ditch and allowed to meander though a system of marshes in the planning area.
That could eventually provided habitat for migratory birds and native trout.
“We’re trying to restore Grant Creek to a more natural stage and give it room to meander back and forth,” said King. “That will improve the water quality, slow down the water, and keep the water cooler to create habitat for animals.”
The vision for Grant Creek is early in its design, though it’s hardly new. When Missoula County submitted its application for the federal BUILD grant, it sought $23 million with the restoration of Grant Creek in mind.
However, the county received $13 million, not its full ask. That could postpone plans to restore the waterway until additional revenue is found.
“If we had gotten the full $23 million we asked for, working on this section of stream was something that was part of that,” said Ward 6 city council member Julie Merritt. “Given the reduction in funding, this may be part of the project that needs to find additional dollars somewhere else.”
Even so, Merritt said, restoration of the creek has been eyed for decades and it’s not likely to vanish, even if it’s not funded in the Mullan Area Master Plan.
When the day comes, she said, it will also require permitting and review from a number of agencies.
“The idea of returning Grant Creek to a natural channel in that sections has been something that’s been on a lot of people’s minds for a decades,” said Merritt. “The upper part of Grant Creek has gotten some work, and they’d really like to see this part done.”