Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County this week took the initial steps in a months-long process to determine if Marshall Mountain will become public property and if the county is the right entity to manage and operate the facility.

Commissioners on Tuesday directed county staff to begin due diligence and assess potential county ownership of the property. They also approved a reimbursement resolution, which allows the cost of due diligence and other items to be paid back if acquisition is ultimately approved.

The resolution also states that acquisition meets the purpose and intent of both the 2006 and 2018 Open Space Bonds.

“Reimbursement resolutions are a very common practice for Missoula County,” said county CAO Chris Lounsbury. “Any time we're taking on a large-scale project, be it Fort Missoula Regional Park, the library or any of those things, the reimbursement resolution always comes prior to the issuance of debt or the use of bond funding to ensure all project costs get wrapped into the funding package as one identifying item.”

Process of Consideration

On a rainy April morning, the city and county of Missoula announced their intent to explore public ownership of Marshall Mountain – a former ski area just minutes from downtown Missoula.

The property covers 480 acres owned by several groups including local philanthropists Izzy Dog LLC and the Five Valleys Land Trust. Together, they're holding the property to give the city and county time to determine if they want to purchase the property for public ownership.

But the clock is ticking and that determination began in earnest this week, starting with the reimbursement resolution and the beginning of due diligence. The later includes such things as an environmental assessment, questions over liability and operational costs, according to Juniper Davis, the county's manager of parks, trails and conservation lands.

“It will help us ascertain the proposed model, whether the county will take a lead role in the acquisition, ownership and management of Marshall Mountain,” said Davis. “The endorsement allows staff over the upcoming months to engage in those due diligence items.”


According to the timeline laid out this week, the county's Open Lands Committee and the city's Open Space Advisory Committee will meet jointly to consider recommending Marshall Mountain for bond funding.

Davis said that will proceed alongside due diligence and public review of a draft master plan, which was released last month. The plan lists a range of community goals around public ownership such as protecting habitat and water quality, trails for biking and hiking, and various programming opportunities.

“We've been hearing good questions and feedback on it. We're excited to see what the survey tells us,” said Davis.

Exploring Possibilities

Izzy Dog LLC purchased 160 acres on the lower mountain in 2021 to keep it from falling into private ownership. The group allowed the city to lease the lower mountain and retain public access while giving the public time to determine if it wanted to purchase the property.

Two years ago, the value of the lower 160 acres was set at roughly $1.9 million but in February, the price for all three parcels covering 480 acres was set at $2.4 million.

As proposed, the city and county would each contribute $1 million in bond funding to cover the lion's share of the cost. The two committees are expected to offer their recommendation this summer.

“Over the next couple of months, staff will be working on due diligence,” said Davis. “The Open Space Bond funding piece would likely come in October. Separately, in November, there would be a discussion at a public meeting about county acquisition, ownership and management.”

Marshall Mountain north of Missoula. (City of Missoula photo)
Marshall Mountain north of Missoula. (City of Missoula photo)

The mountain offers a quiet, forested getaway just minutes from downtown Missoula. In 2022, according to city data, more than 3,500 permitted attendees used the mountain's base for one event or another.

The possibilities have backers eager to secure the site for public use, though doing so must follow protocol, which began this week.

“Both (open space committees) will be asked to grant the funding request,” said Kali Becker, the county's open lands manager. “That is for $1 million for the county's share and $1 million for the city's share to support the project in conjunction with the other funds we've applied for to support the acquisition.”