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Better every year: Volunteers continue improvements to Mount Sentinel ‘M’ Trail

Community volunteers have organized to revamp one of Missoula’s most iconic hikes – the M-Trail on Mount Sentinel.

Project leader, Dr. Steve Gaskill, a professor emeritus of integrative physiology and athletic training at the University of Montana, began the project in the summer of 2020 in order to do much-needed restoration maintenance on the trail.

A combination of volunteers from Run Wild Missoula, University of Montana football players, and local citizens who enjoy hiking the M-trail, collectively worked over the past year to fix steps, extend switchbacks, install fencing and improve water drainage.

The groups met multiple days a week in groups of 4-5. Collectively, volunteers contributed over 1,125 hours of work to aid in the project. The trail has gone through multiple configurations but the current trail sits at 625 feet above the University of Montana campus, with 13 switchbacks that stretch across ¾ miles.

According to Marilyn Marler, this is the first time that the current configuration of the M-Trail has had any restoration to this extent.

“We have in the past done one switchback at a time or maybe two switchbacks a year, but Dr. Gaskill has just wholeheartedly embraced this project and he’s been amazing. It is crazy how much work he has gotten done up there, you could say inspirational.”

The project was funded through a variety of resources including donations from REI, Run Wild Missoula and a grant acquired from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“The work that is being done right now will keep the trail usable and safer for the next decade or more.”

But the project isn’t done. More dirt work needs to be done along with placing benches at a few remaining switchbacks. But it is expected to be completed through the fall. Next year the team plans to start structural restoration on the actual M.