South Hills Spur moves closer to reality

Pelah Hoyt, right, with Five Valleys Land Trust and Elizabeth Erickson, left, talk with a hiker last week on the South Hills Spur. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston

A swath of open space in the South Hills of Missoula moved one step closer to joining the city’s arc of open-space lands on Wednesday by winning unanimous support from the City Council’s Parks and Conservation Committee.

The vote sends the South Hills Spur acquisition to a joint meeting of the City Council and Missoula County commissioners in early October.

If approved, the $575,000 purchase would add 83 acres to the city’s network open space and prompt Five Valleys Land Trust to begin working on a patchwork of projects intended to preserve nearly 4,000 conjoined acres in the South Hills.

“The south side of Missoula is really underserved in this conservation system,” said Pelah Hoyt, the lands director with Five Valleys. “The South Hills Spur will go a long ways in addressing that hole in the conservation system. It has the potential of becoming a beloved part of the Missoula community.”

The parcel of land occupies a low ridge visible in the Missoula Valley’s southeastern corner. It sits above Mansion Heights and was initially slated for development. Five Valleys acquired the property and has given the city the option to buy it for roughly half of its $1.2 million value.

“This ring of conservation around our community is the foundation upon which we’re trying to build a modern economy here in Missoula,” said Hoyt. “This property is located in an open space cornerstone and would provide scenic values, habitat values and recreational values.”

If the city approves the purchase, it would prompt Five Valleys to work on closing other potential acquisitions in the area, including an adjoining 12-acre parcel approved in the 1960s for a subdivision.

Five Valleys has already closed on an adjoining 130-acre parcel known as the Barmeyer family property. The collage of parcels could add to a larger effort to secure roughly 4,000 acres in the South Hills, including 2,500 acres on Dean Stone Mountain.

Earlier this year, The Nature Conservancy granted Five Valleys a three-year option to purchase land on Dean Stone for $1 million. If the parcels advance to approval, they would together represent a project larger in slope than the acquisition of Mount Jumbo nearly 20 years ago.

Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins recalled riding a four-wheeler to the ridge back when motorized use was permitted. While that’s no longer possible – and while Wilkins can no longer hike due to an injury – he gave strong support to the purchase.

“I know I’ll never step foot on that land ever again,” he said. “But I can sit on my porch and see it. I know what it is and I love it. I don’t want any more houses up there.”

The joint session of the Missoula City Council and Board of County Commissioners is set for Oct. 3.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com