Mount Dean Stone: Five Valleys planning access projects up Miller Creek

A view of Miller Creek and access points north to Mount Dean Stone. Projects planned by Five Valleys Land Trust would provide public access from Miller Creek across Dean Stone to Pattee Creek. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Efforts to solidify two public access points on Mount Dean Stone won the support of Missoula County commissioners this week – support that could help the projects win funding.

Five Valleys Land Trust has submitted a proposal to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and its recreation trails program to fund the public access projects located up Miller Creek on Dean Stone’s southern flank.

“It’s a project that’s been kind of pieced together over a long period of time,” said Commissioner Cola Rowley. “It creates connectivity and adds use to the trail. I think it’s a great project.”

The projects include trail improvements to Little Park Creek, including public parking and wheelchair access. It would also see improvements to the Inez parking area.

“That’s where our main trail infrastructure went in this past summer to connect up to a really beautiful vista called Legacy Point,” said Whitney Schwab, director of philanthropy at Five Valleys. “The trailhead and parking area needs to be improved. With the county right-of-way on the road and everything, it’s great to have their support of the project in general to be able to work through that.”

Mount Dean Stone has been a point of public interest for the past several years, and the opportunities it offers played a role in convincing voters to approve a new Open Space Bond last November.

The latest round of projects would provide access from Pattee Canyon across Dean Stone to Miller Creek.

“These projects are a critical part of the greater Mount Dean Stone project, a public access project that will connect the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area to Miller Creek via multi-use trails,” the county wrote in its letter of support. “Our constituents will have an opportunity to gain expanded access to public lands in an area of the county where trail infrastructure has been previously absent.”

In 2016, The Nature Conservancy granted Five Valleys a three-year option to purchase 2,500 acres of land on Dean Stone and private efforts to achieve that goal have been ongoing ever since.

When added to the easements already preserved by Five Valleys and its partners, the conservation effort grows to some 4,000 acres. It represents a project larger in scope than the acquisition of Mount Jumbo nearly two decades ago.

The latest round of trail projects and parking improvements up Miller Creek are another piece of the puzzle, Schwab said.

“It’s solidifying these two access points,” said Schwab. “They’ve been natural access points in the past, but this puts more solid infrastructure in place and solidifies them as public access points as we work to continue creating public access in perpetuity there.”