2006 open space bond: Missoula city, county complete trail through Hellgate Canyon

The new easement secures a completed trail from East Broadway to Easy Street, through Hellgate Canyon.

Missoula city and county leaders gathered for a rare joint public hearing Monday night – and an even rarer unanimous endorsement of an open space purchase in Hellgate Canyon.

Most unusual, said Councilwoman Gwen Jones, is the trail’s public safety value for pedestrians traveling from East Missoula into town along Highway 200.

Two Hellgate High School students were killed along that stretch of highway 10 years ago, when there was no established path or trail a safe distance from the roadway.

The trail easements at 1505 and 1515 E. Broadway will complete a safe path along the full stretch of road through the canyon, from Missoula to Easy Street.

As approved, the plan uses about $90,000 from the 2006 open space bond.

Missoula Parks and Rec director Donna Gaukler described the yearlong series of deals that led to the successful negotiation of easements on both pieces of property.

The property at 1505 E. Broadway was originally purchased by a private developer who intended to build seven condominiums, without room for the riverside trail connection.

The developer was, however, willing to sell the land to the city of Missoula, which purchased the land was an “interim landowner” – intending to place a conservation easement for the trail connection, then to sell the land to the landowner at 1515 E. Broadway.

That landowner, in turn, agreed to sell the final trail easement as part of the transaction.

Councilman Bryan von Lossberg congratulated city and county open space staff members for recognizing the opportunity “and quickly bringing it to a successful resolution.”

The final deal also found favor with Councilman Jesse Ramos, the sole opponent when the proposal first came to City Council members last year.

“I was concerned last year,” Ramos said, “because of the effect on affordable housing. But it now does not affect affordable housing in any way.”

In fact, the narrow piece of land at 1505 E. Broadway is adjacent to the Creekside Apartments, a large affordable housing development, so the trail connection and associated riparian area will provide residents there with a complete trail along the north side of the Clark Fork River.

It’s also an economical transaction for the city, which bought the land for about $326,000 and will recover the funding by reselling the land – a transaction also approved Monday night by the City Council, which delegated that authority to Mayor John Engen.