City Council sets public hearing on Bluebird-North Hills open space 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)

The Missoula City Council’s Parks and Conservation Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to schedule a public hearing on a resolution to use $450,000 of 2006 Open Space Bond proceeds to help purchase and protect 124 acres in Missoula’s North Hills, near Grant Creek.

Known as the Bluebird-North Hills Project, the proposal is a cooperative effort between the city and Five Valleys Land Trust, and will now move forward for consideration by the full City Council.

“The most direct benefit of this project is public access,” Pelah Hoyt, lands director for Five Valleys, told committee members. “As our city grows inward, and development and density increase, we need to ensure we have places to get outside, get exercise and enjoy the natural world.” 

She referred to the benefit as “nature therapy,” and talked about the importance of open space for both mental and physical health. Hoyt also talked about the importance of protecting the “scenic values” of the North Hills, as well as plant and wildlife habitat, including native grasslands and associated elk, deer and grasslands bird species, among them bluebirds. 

The resolution states, in part, that “the Grant Creek and North Reserve Street areas are experiencing significant residential and commercial growth. Providing a public access trailhead in this area, with new public access to hundreds of acres of protected open space, will help balance land conservation with development and growth.”  

The resolution also states that — according to a Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Trails Survey conducted in 2018 — 85 percent of Missoula County residents “want more or better natural areas and wildlife habitat,” and that 84 percent “want more or better dirt trails for hiking, biking and running.”

During the public comment period at Wednesday morning’s committee meeting, no one spoke in opposition to the project.

In November 2006, Missoula County voters approved a $10 million Open Space Bond that authorizes the Missoula County commissioners to use bond monies to project open space lands and acquire commuter and recreational trails throughout the county, with $5 million allocated to the city of Missoula for open space and trails within the Missoula Planning Region, as guided by an Open Space Plan.

The Bluebird-North Hills Project has already received a unanimous recommendation from the city’s Open Space Advisory Committee.  

The public hearing will be held August 12 at a joint meeting of County Commissioners and the City Council, in City Council Chambers, 140 West Pine Street, downtown Missoula, beginning at 7 p.m.