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With a view: Waterworks Hill trailhead set for ADA conversion, improvements

Morgan Valliant, right, the city’s conservation lands manager, and Elizabeth Erickson, the city’s former open space program manager, stand atop an overlook on Waterworks Hill in 2018, where various improvements are planned.  (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Members of the City Council this week recommended that Mayor John Engen move forward with plans to improve the Waterworks Hill trailhead, the most popular and heavily-used access point to the City of Missoula’s trail system.

The capital improvement project will convert the dirt road leading to the trailhead with asphalt and a five-foot sidewalk, and add an asphalt parking lot with 31 parking spots. Currently, cars line up on the side of the road for parking. Plans still show parking on the side of the road as an option.

Along with two handicapped parking spots, the project will create an American Disabilities Association accessible half-mile loop surrounding the existing water tank on the property. The “relatively flat” trail will be composed of compacted native material and will connect to existing trails of the North Hills Trail System.

“There are very few accessible places to users of all abilities, and this is a community value and it’s really important,” Missoula City Council member Jordan Hess said. “So I’m really happy that we are creating this accessible trail up here in a beautiful place in a really important space in our open space network. These road improvements will be really helpful.”

The project will also add an overlook, site-specific vegetation around the trail, and better signage for the trail system itself.

The popular trail isn’t yet suited for all abilities. The project will create an American Disabilities Association accessible half-mile loop surrounding the existing water tank on the property. (Alex Mitchell/Missoula Current)

The project is funded in part by $135,000 of the 2018 Open Space Bond, with the trailhead being identified as a key priority, according to Grant Carlton, manager of the city’s Open Space Program. That’s out of the $500,000 the city earmarked for improving trails and trailheads in the $15 million bond.

The money was allocated for such projects to match Missoula’s growing trail systems.

“As our portfolio of conservation lands and open space has grown, we have increasing difficulties and challenges dealing with management maintenance and stewardship of those lands,” Carlton said.

The committee voted unanimously in favor of the mayor executing on the public access and utility easement, development agreement, and temporary use permit.

Amber Sherrill, who worked on the bond in 2018 helping fund the project, said she was excited to support it to address issues with the popular trailhead.

“There is a safety issue up there for sure with where people are parking. There’s a major erosion issue, and think we’re kind of lucky that there have not been any real problems in the winter with that steep slope, erosion and the drainage.”

The project will also pave the road, create a sidewalk and make other improvements to the popular North Hills location. (Alex Mitchell/Missoula Current)