City, county set out to write new open space, trails plan as population grows

The Missoula Valley stretches into a spring mist, as seen from the South Hills Spur, one of the city’s newest open space acquisitions. (Missoula Current file photo)

As the city and county set out to draft a new master plan detailing the future of open space, trails and parks in the Missoula Valley, they want feedback from the public, saying community priorities have shifted in the last 10 years.

The new draft, set for release this spring, will replace the 2004 parks and recreation plan for the greater Missoula area, along with the open space plan adopted in 1995 and updated in 2006.

Elizabeth Erickson, an open space acquisitions attorney with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said population growth, development and changing priorities have all necessitated an updated plan.

“The past 20-plus years of open space conservation in Missoula has been wildly successful, due to the commitment of Missoulians who deeply value their open spaces,” Erickson said Monday. “We’re now looking ahead to the next decade and want to hear from citizens about their priorities for the future of open space conservation in the greater Missoula area.”

Advocates believe the greater Missoula area has closed in on a number of goals identified in the original plans, including the addition of open space, connected trails and stronger management.

But they also say that new environmental factors, better science and economic trends have changed since the plans were first written. The county’s undeveloped land is facing greater pressure to accommodate new growth and the existing parks and trails – and the valley’s open spaces – are experiencing increased use.

“Both previous documents contain essential planning strategies and benchmarks to be integrated into the new PROST plan, which will guide city and county parks and open space programs throughout the next decade,” said Donna Gaukler, director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

The first Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Trails plan (PROST) open house is set for Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Hellgate Elementary School. The results are expected out this spring before the effort’s second phase kicks in.

That will look to identify new partnerships, community needs and mapping.

“The open house will be a great opportunity for the public to weigh in on the future of open space in the Missoula Valley, including priorities, values and next steps,” said Kali Becher, a natural resource specialist with Missoula County.