- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A Montana conservation trust has raised the first $1 million toward buying a rugged 4,200-acre triangle on Missoula’s south side, sparking excitement among runners, mountain bikers and others who see potential for using the area that is 1,000 acres bigger than the rest of the city’s open space lands combined.

The Five Valleys Land Trust announced Saturday that it had raised the money for a three-year option to buy Mount Dean Stone from The Nature Conservancy, the Missoulian reported (http://tinyurl.com/jf57pyr). The eventual price tag is about $4.5 million.

Five Valleys Land Trust Executive Director Grant Kier said he hopes to see community organizations working together to build the property’s amenities and steward its natural qualities.

“I’d like to see a space to have conversations that are hard to have in a more regimented public place,” Kier said. “This is so big, and yet so close to the urban area. We’re focusing on the things that are unique to the wild land-urban interface.”

The Nature Conservancy acquired the parcel as part of the 310,000-acre Montana Legacy Project with Plum Creek Timber Co. It has handed off other parcels to the Forest Service, state land managers, ranchers and the city of Missoula.

“We’re used to having people recreate on our land as it was when it was owned by Plum Creek,” Nature Conservancy land protection specialist Chris Bryant said. “We’ve helped create or expand wildlife management areas and places for people to snowmobile, fish, hunt and picnic. We don’t have the capacity to be a facilitator with a lot of user groups. But we have a long partnership with Five Valleys, and that allows us to work at a scale we haven’t in the past.”

The Nature Conservancy and Five Valleys Land Trust plan to leverage their networks of donors and affiliated groups to raise the rest of the money to buy Mount Dean Stone. One of those groups is Run Wild Missoula, whose members have already donated $25,000 toward the project and have pledged two more annual $15,000 contributions. Group executive director Tony Banovich said his 1,600 members look forward to expanding their running territory.

Eric Melton, local advocacy manager for International Mountain Biking Association, said his constituency also is eyeing the project.

“We understand the Forest Service’s inability to add new miles of trail to the ground when they can hardly handle what they have,” Melton said. “We have the ability to go after funds for trail work. And the trails are a benefit to everybody.”

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Information from Missoulian: http://missoulian.com/

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