Rod Huff grew up in the shadow of Mount Jumbo. He remembers dragging a sled up its western flank, near where Van Buren Street becomes Rattlesnake Drive. There's a woody draw there, a cistern, and, he says, an occasional passing elk. When a 20-acre parcel there, at the base of the hill, was offered for sale a few years ago, Huff, the president of Huff Construction, decided to buy it, for about $125,000. "It's a pretty unique piece of the mountain," he says.
Now the city's poised to add most of that property to the swath of open space Missoula owns or manages on Jumbo. Huff plans to donate to the city a conservation easement on about 19 acres. Neighbor Bonnie Thompson has agreed to deed to the city another six acres to the north. Together it gives Missoula about 25 more acres of land protected from development—and at the bargain-basement price of $9,810, the cost of surveying and re-zoning.
"I think it's a real win-win for the property owners and the public, knowing that some more acreage on Jumbo will be permanently protected," says Jackie Corday, the city's open space program manager.
The win for Huff is that he can still build a house on a treed, 1.4-acre chunk of land at the bottom of the hill, allowing him to recoup his original investment. He planned to build something there a couple years ago, he says, but the economy wasn't cooperating. He's in the process of designing the home now, and when he sells it, the conservation easement will come with it. He'd hoped to build a second home, but he sacrificed that as part of the agreement with the city. "So there is a gift there, which I feel good about, because I feel strongly about maintaining that mountain the way it is," he says.
The $9,810 price tag—$385 per acre—will come from the city's $5 million portion of the $10 million open space bond that voters passed in 2006. The city now has about $2.5 million of that left. City Council will hold a hearing on the acquisition Monday, May 23.