For the better part of the last seven years, if not longer, Missoula County has grappled with the future of a historic ranch that now sits in the middle of an industrial district, Interstate-90 running behind the knot of trees marking the ranch’s northern edge.
But now, the county believes that it has found a partner that could bring efforts to preserve what’s left of LeLonde Ranch full-circle.
The county last week signed a one-year lease agreement with the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition to lease space in the county admin building. In the meantime, the county hopes to renovate the main ranch building at LeLonde, which the coalition would occupy next year.
“This has been part of a multi-year effort to remove the cloud of uncertainty around LeLonde Ranch that, for many years, was in jeopardy of being lost as one of our significant historic cultural sites here in Missoula County,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.
LeLonde Ranch remains one of the few historic agricultural properties left standing in the Missoula Valley. It consists of several buildings that include a log cabin dating back to 1877, when Adam LeLonde was “proving up” his land.
The precise date of the main ranch house is unknown, though historians believe it was built around 1888 using materials from the Hollenbeck Brickyard, once located two miles south of the home.
The ranch and its remaining 7 acres are now bounded on all sides by the county’s Development Park and I-90. While most of the land that once supported the ranch has been developed, the ranch itself remains intact.
“It made a lot of sense to look at a potential tenant for this site that also aligns with the values of this site, that being its agricultural history,” Strohmaier said. “The coalition is the entity we’d love to see occupy the site as an intermediate step and, to that end, the main house at LeLonde is the building we’d look at doing renovations to to accommodate a tenant.”
Back in 2016, the county considered granting Freedom Gardens use of the property. The organization proposed planting as many as 150 fruit trees, building a greenhouse, a kitchen, and harvesting more than 14,000 pounds of food.
That agreement didn’t pan out, however, and in 2018 the county approved a temporary rental agreement for a caretaker to tend to the property. The following year, it approved a special permit allowing use of the ranch for a cyclocross race.
Now, the Community Food and Agricultural Coalition is poised to become the property’s full-time tenant. The county believes it’s the right fit, even if it took years to accomplish.
“This is part of the sequence of events that will hopefully lead, at some point, to opening the site up to the public for interpretation and education,” Strohmaier said. “The site is a great snapshot of the agricultural history of the Missoula Valley.”