Missoula’s legacy: Groups kick off campaign for open space bond, stewardship levy

Yes to Open Space, Rivers and Farmland co-chairs Tracy Stone-Manning and Rick Wischcamper helped kick off the open space bond campaign Wednesday morning at Garden City Harvest. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

To Missoula residents, open space is more than just accessible woodlands, rivers and trails. It’s about leaving a legacy for future generations, Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said Wednesday, launching the campaign for November’s $15 million open space bond vote.

“This place that we love and call home here in western Montana and Missoula County is not just loved by all of us who are here today, but it is loved by people across the country who recognize the value of this place and are wanting to move here,” Strohmaier said. “If we blink, we’ll have lost an opportunity because many of the landscapes that we love here are going to be loved to death. I think that is something that we want to avoid.”

Garden City Harvest, Yes for Open Space, Rivers and Farmland and other organizations hosted a campaign launch Wednesday to show support for the proposed countywide open space conservation bond and a $500,000 city stewardship levy.

Both will appear on November’s general election ballot.

The $15 million bond will be used for the conservation and acquisition of open spaces, river access and farmland countywide, while the $500,000 mill levy will allow for ongoing funding to maintain already purchased conservation lands in the city of Missoula.

“As our population grows, pressure on these places [increases] and we need the ability to respond quickly if, for example, a really important agricultural parcel comes up for sale or a really important wildlife habitat comes up for sale,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, co-chair of Yes for Open Space, Rivers and Farmland, said in an interview. “We’ll have the ability to say, ‘Well guess what, we can protect that.’ ”

The new bond could advance the recently adopted Community Wildfire Protection Plan by reducing development on forested land, improve access to the Clark Fork River from downtown Missoula to Frenchtown, and protect ranches and farming operations from development.

Garden City Harvest hosted the campaign kickoff, with Jean Zosel, executive director of the 3.5-acre farm in the heart of Missoula, saying that it wouldn’t have been created without the 2006 open space bond.

The farm grows about 35,000 pounds of food per year that is used by the Poverello Center and other local organizations and families, and provides 55 community garden plots used by locals.

“That’s exactly how we got our hands on this piece of property,” Zosel said. “Garden City Harvest actually farmed here for 20 years before we were able to buy this space. We were able to buy this space in 2014 because of the open space bond from 2006.”

The 2006 bond funds also extended the Milwaukee and Grant Creek trails and opened access to public land in Potomac. The Barmeyer Trail on Mount Dean Stone is now open to residents because of the 2006 bond and the new bond will also streamline funding for more access points to the Clark Fork River and Mount Dean Stone.

Oliver Gill, a recent graduate of Hellgate High School, voiced his support for the bond as an outside adventurer who grew up on the trails and is a newly registered voter.

“Many of these areas are made possible by initiatives like this open space bond, and I don’t want my experience to be unique in growing up in Missoula and having this unprecedented access to these natural wonders. I want the generations to come to have the same upbringing that I had,” he said.

According to Yes for Open Space, Rivers and Farmland, nearly 15,000 acres of land have been protected with the help of 10 nonprofits, governmental agencies and the 2006 open space bond.

The new bond would cost the owner of a $265,000 home about $18 per year, while the maintenance levy would cost that same homeowner about $14 per year.

To many at the launch, individual costs for a bond protecting a shared value are reasonable. Once land is developed, there is no turning back, and future generations cannot enjoy the space again, Stone-Manning said.

“It means lost opportunity. As the old saying goes, we’re not making any more land. So if a really important parcel comes up for sale and we don’t have the ability to protect it, and it gets developed, we never get the chance. It’s done forever,” Stone-Manning said.