1

Five Valleys Land Trust seals deals for trail over Mount Dean Stone

The view looking down Miller Creek toward the Bitterroot Valley from above the Nature Conservancy property. (FVLT)

Three public mountains will soon cup the region of the Five Valleys, thanks to the work of Five Valleys Land Trust and some civic-minded landowners.

As the year wound down, the land trust announced that it was able to close three deals that could eventually allow Mount Dean Stone to join Mount Jumbo and Mount Sentinel in being mostly city-owned. 

“The last closing was at about 4:45 (on Friday),” said Whitney Schwab, Five Valleys Land Trust philanthropy director. “We are thrilled. Our lands team has done a phenomenal job shepherding these really complex land deals through.”

The lands team had to have the focus and tenacity of border collies, because the three deals started at different times, involved different landowners and involved everything from land purchases and swaps to conservation easements. The team is still working on one land swap that will likely be sealed by spring, Schwab said.

The effort began on the mountain’s north side with the Barmeyer family property in 2014, part of which produced in 2017 the Barmeyer Trail leading up partway up Dean Stone from Pattee Canyon. But the slopes between the Baymeyer Trail and the top of Dean Stone have been off limits. Until now.

Then there’s the south side of Mount Dean Stone that leads into Miller Creek. Fortunately, The Nature Conservancy had bought 2,500 acres of that from Plum Creek Timber. Five Valleys Land Trust entered into that land deal in 2016.

Still, that left the top of Mount Dean Stone and the ridge leading north in private hands. The land trust turned to the Mount Dean Stone Committee, a group of 20 partners and businesses, for guidance. 

“That’s significant acreage. Putting together a 4,200-acre complex would double the conservation lands program open space (at the time),” Schwab said. “So we went to the community and said, ‘Should we connect the two? Is there support for this?’ And resoundingly, the community said, ‘Yes, please. We will support you.’ So we’ve been working on it ever since.”

Fortunately, the six landowners of the 350 acres involved were sympathetic to the cause, Schwab said. But it still required a lot of hoop-jumping, including negotiating long-distance with a radio tower company in Boca Raton, Florida. And there are a few sections where you’ll be trespassing on private land if you venture a couple hundred feet off the trail. But you’ll get to the top.

“It completes the corridor from the South Hills Spur to the top of Mount Dean Stone. These three land deals will allow us, as a community, to have a trail go around the top of the mountain connecting to the backside,” Schwab said.

For now, though, the land remains closed to the public.

The purpose of land trusts is to acquire and hold land until some other entity can take possession. And the entire Mount Dean Stone project hasn’t been cheap – Schwab and others have had to raise almost $5 million to put all the pieces – Barmeyer, South Hills Spur, Nature Conservancy, and the new land – in place.

Five Valleys Land Trust is almost done with its work, and now it’s up to the city of Missoula. 

The land trust has started the public process to seek Missoula Open Space Bond matching funds for the three land purchases, with the hopes of eventually transferring the property to the city conservation lands program. FVLT would need to raise funds for the remainder of the $4 million project.

“We’ll know more as we continue to work with city staff on the process, which is underway,” Schwab said.

 In the meantime, the land trust staff hopes that work will start on a new trail leading from the Barmeyer to the top of the mountain sometime in 2020.

In addition, staff is working on making connectivity trails and pursuing the creation of a community forest on the south side in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and other partners. 

“The momentum to move that forward is here,” Schwab said.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.