Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The breakdown of costs related to the acquisition and long-term operation of Marshall Mountain became clearer on Tuesday when Missoula County set a joint hearing with the city regarding the allocation of funding from the Open Space Bond.

Public acquisition of the 480 acres comprising much of the former ski hill has been inching forward over the past year, checking off the steps required to legally expend funding from the bond. The city and county will render a decision on spending $1 million each at a joint meeting slated for Oct. 4 at the Missoula Public Library.

“That hearing, the decision is solely related to funding to support acquisition,” said Kali Becher, the county's open lands program manager. “The larger decision on whether the county will take on the long-term ownership, management and operations, with support from the city, will happen at a hearing in November.”

Becher said the land acquisition stands at roughly $2.2 million, along with $600,000 for immediate improvements to the property. The effort already has secured a number of grants, including a $600,000 community forest grant and a separate $40,000 grant from the Conservation Alliance.

If the city and county approve funding from the Open Space bond, and if the county decides to assume operations and management in November, current estimates place ongoing operational costs at around $400,000 a year.

Becher said that would be split evenly between the city and county under an inter-local agreement that's currently being drafted.

“That comprehensive management includes things like operations and maintenance, event permitting, contracting and budgeting,” said Becher. “We'll work to find opportunities for cost recovery through event permit fees, grants, volunteers and partnerships.”

Master plan and joint costs

The Marshall Mountain conceptual master plan has been in the works for around a year, and the final comment period ended over the summer. The city and county are now working to finalize the plan.

“The master plan provides that conceptual recommendation on how to protect Marshall Mountain as a public park and provide recreation opportunities and resource conservation,” said Becher. “It starts to lay out that prioritization and phasing of potential improvements.”

Marshall Mountain served as a local ski hill until 2003, though it could again become a hub of recreation.
Marshall Mountain served as a local ski hill until 2003, though it could again become a hub of recreation.

Two of the three parcels eyed for purchase have been open to the public through a lease agreement with the city, managed by Parks and Recreation. As proposed, the city-county partnership would transfer that management to the county for operation and maintenance while the city would continue to provide programming.

As proposed, the mountain would serve as a “high use, all-season, all-access public outdoor recreation and education site,” according to the plan. It would also promote responsible land stewardship.

Programming would range from mountain bike events and learn-to-ski, to winter recreation and a vast trail system. It could also provide mid-mountain camping, various youth programming and other events, some of which could recover some of the estimated $400,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs.

“The idea would that we'd continually be looking for cost-recovery opportunities,” said Becher. “Whatever isn't recovered would be split between the city and the county. That's all still being discussed and detailed in an inter-local agreement.”

The public can comment on the proposal with the county at Missoula County Voice and with the city at Engage Missoula.