The Missoula City Open Space Program doesn’t care about moving a mountain, rather the program is interested in buying one—Mount Sentinel to be exact. And on Monday, June 9, City Council will decide if it wants to complete a purchase project that has been in the works for half a decade.
“The city purchased the face in 1999,” says Open Space Program Manager Kate Supplee. “But this purchase really completes the puzzle, and now all the public lands will be connected.”
In January, the council voted to obtain about 40 acres on the backside of Sentinel in exchange for $100,000 of open space money, contingent upon federal Land and Water Conservation funding for the remainder of the project. Now that Congress has appropriated the funds, the project that will put the vast majority of Sentinel into public ownership has entered its final stages.
In addition to securing the 40 acres, the city’s money will help leverage the acquisition of an additional 435 acres—which is currently owned by the Cox family. The additional acres will become part of the Lolo National Forest’s Pattee Canyon Recreation Area, and will be managed by the Forest Service.
“Without the city’s significant contributions, the Forest Service wouldn’t have been able to access the Land and Water Conservation funds that are making the entire purchase possible,” says Supplee. “Even though we’re only getting a really small portion of land, our money is really toward a larger acquisition. And at the same time it’s kind of nice because we don’t have the costs associated with management.”
Supplee and the Five Valleys Land Trust—which is helping to orchestrate the purchase—both agree that the Cox parcel is the marquee piece of open space in the area, because it creates a final link between city, the University of Montana campus and Forest Service land.
“It provides a connecting corridor,” says Five Valleys Outreach Grants Coordinator David Dittloff. “You’ll be able to walk from the face of Mount Sentinel into the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area…You don’t see many towns anywhere in America where you have that kind of high-quality outdoor recreation activity that is basically in town.”
The aquisition will also deliver an ecological value. The grasslands on the property contain predominately native plant species with few invasive weeds, and provide habitat for wildlife.
“Lots of critters use it,” says Dittloff. “There are black bears, deer, foxes and birds of prey that all use it.”
Supplee sees no reason why the resolution–which reaffirms the city’s intention to follow through on its commitment, and expresses appreciation to its partners in the project—won’t be accepted on Monday. If it is, the land could be open for recreation by mid-summer.