Missoula County inks contract to study future of historic valley ranch

The historic LaLonde Ranch in the Missoula Valley remains one of the area’s original European homesteads. (Photo courtesy of Missoula County)

Missoula County commissioners continue to look for a new and compatible use for a historic valley ranch that traces its roots back to the 19th century and now stands alone in a 21st century industrial park.

On Tuesday, commissioners approved a $44,000 service contract with A&E Architects to assess the condition of the land associated with the historic LaLonde Ranch and its buildings and provide a cost estimate for improvements.

The study could also identify a future tenant.

“The project isn’t to assess for one particular project, but to give a good idea for public use on some different ideas that may come up when talking to the stakeholders,” said Dori Brownlow, director of the county’s development district. “They’ll give a cost on what those improvements could be.”

The LeLonde Ranch is one of the few remaining historic ranches in the Missoula Valley. It consists of several buildings that include a log cabin dating back to 1877, when Adam LeLonde was “proving up” his land.

The precise date of the ranch house is unknown, though historians believe it was built after 1888 using materials from the Hollenbeck Brickyard, once located two miles south of the home.

Now the ranch and its remaining 7 acres are bounded on all sides by the county’s growing Development Park and Interstate 90. The park has been reserved for technology and industrial uses, though the county remains interested in preserving the ranch for the proper tenant.

A lease agreement considered last year with Freedom Gardens, a nonprofit that sought to return the land to agriculture, didn’t pan out. And while no specific use has been identified since, commissioners talked Tuesday of a possible museum or some other similar use.

“With all the history associated with this site, it is great to see us moving forward and laying the groundwork for future decision making,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “It is a significant historic resource.”

Brownlow said A&E’s study would take place over the winter with a draft recommendation expected by March.