GREAT FALLS - The Missouri River Open Lands area is an 80-acre plot of prairie and riverbank situated between Fox Farm Road and the Missouri River.
For decades, the plot has been a publicly used space attracting people for both recreation and education.
Now it’s being threatened by the potential for development.
The state wants to sell part of the land and lease another section for potential development.
The Missouri River Open Lands Preservation group says on its website: "Development, probably a combination of leased and fee sale, is the preferred option by the State of Montana since this property is 'state school trust lands.' It is a state law that requires that the maximum income possible be derived to benefit the state school system"
The group said the area of native prairie serves the community better as open space so they are working to purchase the land to be kept as a preserve.
On Sunday, a block party fundraiser was held outside the lands to raise awareness and money for an upcoming appraisal.
The Missouri River Open Lands Preservation group is determined to keep the habitat development-free.
“I’m 59 years old, nothing has happened with this land for 59 years, and then a few years ago, the state thought it was urgent to put this land into their development queue,” said Douglas Ormseth, president of the preservation group.
The development would not only damage recreational activities, but also threaten a diverse ecosystem from flowers to fauna.
There is also concern that extended zoning will become overbearing to an area that already experiences large influxes of traffic.
“Houses are going up faster than people can even count, Fox Farm Road is incredibly busy, Meadowlark School is already full and has been expanded twice,” says Ormseth, citing that another neighborhood or more businesses would saturate the community.
“Here in Montana, we understand open spaces, and as more people move to the 'Last Best Place’, they realize that this is prime ground, and it’s not something that should be developed or ruined,” says preservation group member Gene Clary.
Ormseth predicts the appraisal to protect the land will cost between $500,000 to $1 million.
Currently, the group has about $100,000 tucked away in the bank and has received donations from large organizations within Great Falls.
“Great Falls is growing but that doesn’t mean every little piece needs to be developed right down to the river,” Ormseth concluded.