MISSOULA — The former Marshall Mountain Ski Area is under contract to be sold to a private owner and there's not much more backcountry user groups can do than hope for agreements to allow some continued public access.
They are advocating continued public respect for the area until the deal is finalized. Backcountry skiers, bikers, and hikers have been buzzing all month as word got out Marshall Mountain was under contract to be sold to a new owner.
Ever since the ski area closed 18-years ago, there was always a feeling this day would come but users had always been hopeful the area would be transferred into public ownership.
“I know there's been discussions over the years between conservation partners and the community, you know, the city and the county and conservation NGOs," says Derek Goldman, a volunteer trustee with the Montana Backcountry Alliance.
"And it’s just unfortunate that circumstances turned out there wasn't a way to put a deal together to conserve public access at Marshall Mountain," Goldman continued.
The use of the property to access thousands of acres of backcountry depended on the generosity of long-time owner Bruce Doering of Missoula, who not only allowed parking and trail access but special events like mountain bike races.
The users showed their appreciation with more than words, organizing cleanups and other projects over the years.
“We're very appreciative of the current owner Bruce, with his generosity in letting folks have access to that country, ski and mountain bike and otherwise recreate," Goldman told MTN News.
"Maybe if you don't backcountry ski or mountain bike you may not realize how much recreational use the area gets and how much it's loved and appreciated," he added.
Since news of the pending sale broke on social media a couple of weeks ago, there's been renewed interest on what happens here with access in the future. But the user groups say it's too soon to know for certain.
“I think the best thing is that people can just continue to express their love for Marshall Mountain as a recreational site, this close to Missoula and this accessible," Goldman observed.
"And you know hopefully something can be worked out," he continued. "We hope moving forward that whoever ends up buying it, you know, we're more than willing to work with them to come to some mutual, you know, satisfactory agreements that both take into account landowner privacy as well as public access for recreation.”
The City of Missoula had made an unsuccessful offer to buy the property at a lower price using funds from the voter-approved open space bond.
The Marshall Mountain area’s been a part of the community for decades and has a rich history.
In the 1930s, people were skiing there before it was even a ski area. Tollef Olseon owned it at the time and put in a crude rope tow in 1937.
With support from the Mountaineers Club and the US Forest Service and later the Missoula Ski Club, developing the area got underway and it soon became a family-oriented, easily accessible place to ski.
It's been through several owners over the years, offering after-school ski programs and at one time, night skiing.
Different runs and rope lifts were added in the ’50s and ’60s -- and in 1972, owners installed a triple chairlift, said to be the first of its kind in Montana.
It was about that time they added some snow-makers and eventually more runs and grooming equipment.
Operating a ski area at a lower elevation always posed challenges, and in 2002, the current owners had to shut it down.
Since then, Marshall Mountain has been the site of community events and gatherings, sporting events, weddings and summer camps.
The Hell’s Angels once rented out the site for its annual rally some 21 years ago.