Forest Service, city team up on urbanesque “trail ranger” position

The new trail ranger, a shared position between the city of Missoula and the Missoula Ranger District, will patrol mutual lands shared by the two agencies, including Mount Sentinel, pictured on a recent winter day. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Avid users of Missoula’s front-country trail system will see a new face when they’re out and about this summer, one that represents a mutual effort between the city and the U.S. Forest Service to protect the area’s environmental resources.

From safeguarding the local watershed to promoting proper trail etiquette, the new “trail ranger” will serve as a public liaison on lands mutual to the city of Missoula and the Missoula Ranger District.

“This is a position we’re really excited about,” Morgan Valliant, the city’s conservation lands manager, said on Tuesday. “We’ve been wanting it for years. She’ll work on lands where we have connecting boundaries with the Forest Service.”

It’s there on Mount Jumbo, Mount Sentinel and the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area where hikers will likely encounter Melanie Hobgood, who stepped in as the first trail ranger two weeks ago.

Hobgood, an avid climber and recent crew leader for the Montana Conservation Corps, will cover an extensive landscape in her capacity as ranger.

Her responsibilities include both ends of Mount Jumbo, as well as the saddle near Lincoln Hills. She’ll also provide coverage of the North Hills, the Kim Williams Trail, Pattee Canyon and the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area.

“These are all heavily used areas,” Valliant said. “The majority of the lands the city owns as public open space provide that front-country connection to these larger landscapes managed by the Forest Service. Most people who go up there don’t really realize when they’re crossing a boundary from one agency to another.”

While the new trail ranger will promote awareness aimed at protecting vital resources, she’ll also provide routine trail maintenance and update information boards. Doing so will enable the city and the Missoula Ranger District to pool their resources for a common goal.

The position is funded through the Missoula County Resource Advisory Committee and represents a new partnership between the two agencies.

“Our cross-boundary needs are very similar, and fortunately everything came together for funding,” said Missoula District Ranger Jennifer Hensiek. “This position will benefit anyone who uses these popular trails close to the city.”

Donna Gaukler, director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said the trail ranger will provide education on proper trail etiquette, from leave-no-trace to pets and avoiding wildlife encounters.

The ranger will also provide updated information on the Marshall Woods project in Marshall Canyon.

“The resource is highly valued for so many differing and sometimes conflicting reasons,” Gaukler said of Missoula’s surrounding landscapes. “We believe education is key to success and the shared trail ranger is key to that education.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com