City approves $398,000 land purchase toward park, trail connection

By Martin Kidston

The Missoula City Council on Monday night agreed to spend the remaining balance of the 1995 Open Space Bond to help purchase a parcel of land from Montana Rail Link for a future park and trail connection.

The 10-0 vote will funnel the $390,000 remaining in the city’s 1995 bond to help secure 4.5 acres of former industrial property located between North and South avenues. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency will provide the remaining balance to purchase the entire 12-acre lot and construct the trail.

The purchase price is $2 million.

“It’ll make a difference to the people who live there and their overall health,” said Ward 3 council member Emily Bentley. “It takes vision and leadership to know and have faith to know that our trails will all be connected.”

Elizabeth Erickson, with the city’s open space program, said the 1995 bond permits the city to direct funding toward city parks. The original bond was valued at $5 million, though $390,000 is all that remains.

“This realizes multiple visions of the Missoula community, including connecting a trail from downtown Missoula to Hamilton, as well as providing much-needed parkland in one of the neighborhoods of Missoula,” Erickson said.

The city’s 2004 master parks plan suggests the immediate neighborhood lacks roughly 13 acres of allotted parkland. It’s one of the most underserved neighborhoods in the city when it comes to available parkland.

Monday night’s approval helps close that gap.

“While this won’t resolve all that deficiency, it will help considerably,” said Erickson. “There are other properties that could come available down the road that we’ll keep our eyes on if those opportunities ever arise.”

For several years, the city has worked with Montana Rail Link in hopes of gaining an easement across the property to complete the trail. In October, Mayor John Engen announced that MRL had not only agreed to an easement, but had offered to sell the property at less than market value.

The purchase was lauded by residents, cyclists and members the Open Space Advisory Committee.

“At the same time we’ve been talking about this trail, we’ve been ever cognizant that we had nearly $400,000 in Open Space Bond funds that had to be spent on city parks and trails,” said Ethel MacDonald, a member of the Open Space Advisory Committee. “This could not be a more perfect project.”

Completing the trail that crosses the industrial property will fill one of the last gaps in the Bitterroot Branch Trail, a 50-mile pathway that extends from Missoula to Hamilton.

The total property consists of 12 acres and comes with a total purchase price of $2 million. MRA will provide the remaining funding using tax increment financing from Urban Renewal District III.

“It’s near my house and part of the ward I represent,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler. “From the time I was first even thinking of running for City Council, I realized this was a big break in the trail. It’s a really important connection.”


Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com