Twenty years after the protection of Mount Jumbo, residents on the north side of Missoula now boast that they can walk out their door, jump on a trail, and hike to Glacier National Park crossing just a couple of paved roads. Earlier this year, Five Valleys announced our Mount Dean Stone initiative, Missoula’s biggest-ever open space opportunity. Mount Dean Stone is our chance to protect over 4,200 acres of climbing timbered draws, small creeks, high ridgelines, and breathtaking views. It offers Missoula’s southern neighborhoods unprecedented access to open space. If our Mount Dean Stone project is successful, residents in the South Hills neighborhood could one day walk out their door, jump on a trail, and walk all the way Yellowstone National Park crossing just a couple of paved roads. Residents who live in the center of town will have a very tough choice!
In the early 1990s two neighbors worked with Five Valleys to conserve their land in Pattee Canyon, just below Mount Dean Stone. In the subsequent 23 years 14 more families followed their lead, protecting over 1,700 acres between Pattee Canyon and Miller Creek. The recent donation of the Barmeyer family’s property to City of Missoula Open Space program, and the snowballing effect of enthusiastic neighboring landowners, has led us to a once-in-a-generation conservation opportunity that parallels and, in some respects, dwarfs Mount Jumbo.
Conservation on and around Mount Dean Stone, along with our adjacent 5,800-acre Northern Sapphire Mountains project, will secure 10,000 acres of protected wildlife habitat.
The Mount Dean Stone project will span three to five years and has been broken into three phases. Phase I, the South Hills Spur, will conclude this winter with the transfer of land into City of Missoula Open Space. Phase II features an option to acquire 2,500 acres from The Nature Conservancy, land in checkerboard ownership with Montana DNRC parcels. Phase III includes additional options of land or easement acquisitions with multiple private landowners to conserve additional land and improve trail and wildlife corridor connectivity throughout the Mount Dean Stone complex.
Mount Dean Stone is a colossal undertaking that will require a colossal collaboration. We’ll be working with partners and community members to assess how best to ensure that forests are managed to mitigate fire risks on the edge of town, how to responsibly and sustainably expand recreational opportunities for one of Montana’s largest urban centers, how to ensure that these conserved lands improve the qualify of life and standard of living of the entire community, and who is best suited to own these lands long-term. When we get that sorted we have one more question…how will we pay for this?
Mount Dean Stone is a colossal undertaking that will require a colossal collaboration.
Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the landowners with whom we have options or agreements in place—all of whom are donating all or a portion of the value of their land—the cost of the easements and acquisitions for all three phases is approximately $4 million.
Once completed, the Mount Dean Stone project will connect open space and trails in a 180-degree arc around Missoula, from the North Hills to the Bitterroot Valley. Missoula’s foremost running organization, Run Wild Missoula, recognized the opportunity Mount Dean Stone presents for our community. Run Wild Missoula has pledged their financial support for the project for three years, as well as representation as a partner in the planning process. Run Wild, and user groups including equestrian, hunting, mountain biking, hiking, and other communities will explore and help define innovative possibilities for how our community can create and steward our next generation’s signature open space.
Once completed, the Mount Dean Stone project will connect open space and trails in a 180-degree arc around Missoula, from the North Hills to the Bitterroot Valley.
Greater conservation on Mount Dean Stone is also a chance to address the threat of catastrophic wildfire so close to the City of Missoula. Five Valleys began thinning projects on the South Hills Spur this past summer, though more work will need to take place over the next decade to ensure that the timbered draws of the mountain remain healthy and hazard-free.
After 44 years, the Five Valleys board and staff are inspired by and in awe of our community. As we look forty years ahead we feel compelled to provide this community with opportunities to positively shape the future for conservation. Mount Dean Stone is just that opportunity and Five Valleys looks forward to working for and with our members and the community to make it a reality.
Header image: Mount Dean Stone by Mark Mesenko.