Missoula County qualifies North Hills, Clark Fork open space for purchase

The purchase of 124 acres near Grant Creek in Missoula’s North Hills would preserve habitat and the scenic views. (Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current)

Missoula County commissioners qualified two open space acquisitions for funding on behalf of the city on Thursday, including land in the North Hills and frontage along the Clark Fork River near East Broadway.

The funding includes roughly $450,000 from the 2006 Open Space Bond to secure 124 acres at the base of Grant Creek in the North Hills. Dubbed the Bluebird project, the acquisition represents a partnership between the city and Five Valleys Land Trust.

“It’s an acquisition Five Valleys purchased from the landowner, and it will provide some really neat open space and hiking opportunities in Grant Creek,” said Kylie Paul, a natural resource specialist for Missoula County. “This will provide connectivity, so there will be open space made available to folks in Grant Creek and the North Reserve area.”

The project will allow the city to open a new trailhead for residents in the rapidly growing area west of Reserve Street – an area underserved by the conservation lands system. It could also include a trail loop that ties into the North Hills-Allied Waste conservation easement.

The city and county are currently planning for thousands of new homes in the area to address the local housing demand. The Bluebird Trailhead would ensure that future development has access to the surrounding trail system.

“It won’t create a whole piece up and over (the North Hills), but it secures more open space with undeveloped scenic value and wildlife habitat,” said Paul.

The county also qualified roughly 9,000 square feet of property along the Clark Fork River at 1505 East Broadway for $91,000 in funding from the 206 Open Space Bond.

The acquisition of trail and riparian easements along the north bank of the river presents what the city sees as an opportunity to complete a key connection in the trail system.

The project would complete a connection between Missoula College east to Hellgate Park, moving the city closer to a contiguous trail from downtown Missoula to East Missoula.

“There’s a piece of trail system there, and this is a chunk of land that when it sells to a landowner soon, if there isn’t a trail easement protected, people could lose the trail they have right now,” said Paul. “It’s small but important. This would preserve a trail easement across that property.”