Missoula County approves $3.88M Marshall Mountain purchase
(Missoula Current) Eight months after announcing an official interest in Marshall Mountain, Missoula County on Thursday voted to purchase the property, committing the city and county to maintenance and management in perpetuity.
The $3.88 million deal includes 480 acres and a number of structures, along with miles of trails and riparian wildlife habitat. The action also approves an agreement between the city and county of Missoula that guides future oversight of the property, which formerly served as a ski hill.
“It's being used – it's been well-loved for decades,” Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said of Marshall Mountain. “It's being well-used and programmed as we speak. This is no speculative endeavor. We're stewards of this landscape. What we're doing today isn't the end of the finish line. This is the start.”
Earlier this year, the city and county agreed to allocate $1 million each from their share of the Open Space bond to purchase the property.
The land purchase amounts to $3.2 million for all three parcels, including $73,000 for the portion owned by Five Valley's Land Trust, $1.8 million for that owned by Izzy Dog LLC, and $400,000 for the property owned by The Conservation Fund.
Other costs associated with the purchase bring the total to $3.88 million, including appraisal and closing fees, environmental review and preparing the site for public use. County officials have estimated the annual cost of comprehensive management, operations and maintenance at $424,000 annually.
“It's more than going up and getting garbage cans,” said Juniper Davis, manager of county parks, trails and open lands. “These three parcels comprise 480 acres. We have natural resource restoration projects in mind. We have forest management we need to complete. We have existing trails that need to be maintained and future trails that will increase the level of maintenance.”
County officials named other costs including event permitting, contracting and budgeting. But they said it will take roughly three years to reach full operations. The city and county have committed to spending $105,000 each the first fiscal year, though the city's portion of that will be in-kind contributions.
Next year, both governments will need to allocate $160,000 each and, in Fiscal Year 2026, that increases to $212,000 each, reaching the total $424,000 annual operating estimate. Both governments have acknowledged that comprehensive management costs will increase over time, but they'll “work to find opportunities for cost recovery through event permit fees, grants, volunteers and other revenues.”
On Thursday, they said they're also waiting on final appraisal values, which haven't been completed despite the county's decision to purchase the property.
“Those final appraisals aren't complete. But that's not going to change the total cost of the project,” said Kali Becher with county parks and trails. “Any changes in value from what we estimated will just change the in-kind contribution from the landowners.”
On a 10-2 vote, the Missoula City Council last month approved the property's interlocal agreement with the county. The county adopted its side of the agreement on Thursday.
The agreement, which runs 124 pages long, identifies the county as the lead steward in owning and managing the site while the city will provide recreational programming. They also will rely on community partners to remain at the table.
On Thursday, several partners pledged their intent to do so.
“We'll continue to be partners in the future, whether we're the landowners or not,” said Whitney Schwab, executive director of Five Valley's Land Trust.
Jeff Crouch with Friends of Marshall Mountain said his organization will continue fundraising and will remain partners in long-term stewardship.
“We believe in this as a public park for everyone, forever,” said Crouch. “We're here for the hard work that's in front of us now. There's a lot of work to be done and a lot of money to be raised.”