By Martin Kidston
The city’s network of open space grew by 83 acres on Monday night after the Missoula City Council and Board of County Commissioners voted to protect a prominent knoll in the South Hills from future development.
Passed unanimously by both governing bodies, the vote conserves the South Hills Spur and clears the way for several other proposed land acquisitions – each part of a larger effort to protect nearly 4,000 acres across the South Hills in perpetuity.
“The South Hills Spur builds on the work of our predecessors,” said Pelah Hoyt, lands director for Five Valleys Land Trust. “This ring of conservation around Missoula improves the lives of our citizens. It forms the foundation for the modern economy we’re trying to build here.”
The South Hills Spur – so christened for lack of a better name – 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 recently acquired the property and gave the city the option to buy it for roughly half of its $1.2 million value. In approving the purchase, the city agreed to expend up to $575,000 from its portion of the 2006 Open Space Bond.
The project adheres to the bond by protecting wildlife habitat, open space and scenic landscapes, along with recreation and growth management. It won the unanimous recommendation of the city’s Open Space Advisory Committee before reaching Monday’s council vote.
“The recreational values are the most significant values of this project,” said Hoyt. “It will open up two new trailheads for the Missoula community. This will become a real anchor on the south side of Missoula.”
The acquisition is expected to prompt Five Valleys Land Trust to close on other properties in the area, including an adjoining 12-acre parcel approved in the 1960s for a subdivision.
Five Valleys already has closed on an adjoining 130-acre parcel known as the Barmeyer family property, and it’s working to raise funds to purchase roughly 2,500 acres on Dean Stone Mountain, which rises above the smaller parcels and caps the South Hills horizon.
The Nature Conservancy granted Five Valleys a three-year option to purchase the mountain for $1 million. Combined, the properties represent a project larger in scope than the acquisition of Mount Jumbo nearly 20 years ago.
A trail could eventually connect Pattee Canyon with Miller Creek.
“It’s a really good deal for the city of Missoula and Missoula County as well,” said Hoyt. “It’s been brought forward very carefully. It sets the stage for some exciting open space opportunities in the future as well.”
No members of the public offered comment Monday night. The acquisition passed the county on a 3-0 vote and the city on a 12-0 vote.
“I’ve got a good view up there,” said Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins. “When my family comes from Great Falls, they say there’s more houses creeping up (the mountain). It’s great to know I’ll be able to look up there and still see green, instead of houses.”
The City Council also set a joint meting with Missoula County commissioners to vote on spending up to $262,000 from the 2006 bond to purchase the Deschamps family ranch. Passage of the proposal would protect the 545-acre ranch in perpetuity.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at email@example.com