BONNER – The loop around University Mountain gets about two miles shorter Friday, when the U.S. Forest Service takes title to the Deer Creek side of Missoula’s favorite play area.

“You just can’t do this in most of the world,” said Caroline Byrd of The Nature Conservancy. “There usually are too many disparate owners. But here we had one landowner to put it all back together.”

Byrd referred to Plum Creek Timber Co., which sold TNC the 1,709-acre parcel that stretches between the Milltown State Park overlook and Pattee Canyon Recreation Area, south of Bonner. The land was part of the Montana Legacy Project, in which TNC and the Trust for Public Lands brokered a transfer of 310,000 acres of timberland to public ownership. On Friday, TNC passes the title to the Forest Service for $1,992,660 from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

A gated logging road crosses the east face of the mountain, with entrances just a quarter-mile from either the Milltown overlook or the Pattee Canyon parking lots. Over the past two years, TNC hired loggers to cut 447,000 board feet of millable timber and excavators to retire several spur roads. Now the main route shows a stampede of bike tire tracks as cyclists explore a quieter, shorter route around Mount Sentinel and University Mountain.

“This opens up the possibility for a lot more recreation right next to town,” Missoula District Ranger Paul Matter said on a tour of the property. “I’m looking forward to the day when people can ride to Pattee Canyon, around these roads to Milltown, and then down the Kim Williams trail and back to town.”

The Lolo National Forest will start looking for partners to plan the area’s future in the next couple of years, Matter said. While there are no intentions to put campgrounds or other expansive facilities on the mountainside, the network of old roads and trails beckons bikers, hikers and horse riders. Plum Creek did not allow motorized access during its ownership, and the Forest Service plans to continue that, Matter said.

One big character change both TNC and the Forest Service have imposed is a cleanup of Deer Creek party zones. Both have organized hundreds of volunteer hours to haul away several 40-yard dumpsters worth of trash, including old refrigerators, abandoned cars and the remains of gunshot televisions. Several of the more popular sites have toppled trees that were literally shot down by bullets.

To discourage that, TNC blocked access to several places along Deer Creek with boulders and fences. One site was a notorious kegger field connected to numerous injury accidents on the road.

“And look at it now,” said Chris Bryant, TNC’s land protection specialist. “There aren’t any couches out there any more.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

(7) comments

Dave Skinner
Dave Skinner

Actually, Dub is right that this is a ripoff.
That's about 60 grand of timber taken off, not very much, and it won't be logged again for a long time with the USFS in charge. Wouldn't have been logged again for a long time, Plum Creek took almost every stick anyway.
Price was about 1,160 per acre, which is about what TNC actually "paid" Plum Creek for this junk. So TNC breaks even, gets the land use template it wants, gets out from under the responsibility of actually managing, and puts taxpayers on the hook permanently.
What's not to love?

Smilely
Smilely

Good job! Now Forest Service do the right thing and have a ranger regularly patrol your lands in Hellgate Canyon including destroying the several one-room homes that bums have built on Forest Service land up the east side of the Hellgate Canyon Trail (and some west of the trial) leading up to the saddle. And please patrol your land along the river without the use of a vehicle please. That whole area from the trailhead leading to the saddle from the shores of the Clark Fork River all the way to the saddle and east for a mile from the center of that drainage although not a "designated wilderness area" is a designated number "1 Area” and legally has the same protections of a wilderness area. That is why bicycles are not allowed on that trail. Now U.S.F.S. let’s start patrolling, enforcing and protecting this area as it should be with the exact protections of a designated wilderness area.

Dub
Dub

Wow, just when will we reach the point when the government will own all the rural land? Once again Nature Conservancy bagged a big profit from the tax payers of our country. There is certainly no recession going on with land trusts as they are making millions and we are just standing by with a smile thinking that now we can use the land for recreation, logging and hiking. I think back to the previous generations that gave so much for our freedom and now the big money land trusts are stealing under the guise of saving it forever. There is a strong movement by world leaders (see Agenda 21, Y2Y, Crown of the Continent) to remove humans from the rural areas and pack them into the cities and our local government (county commissioners) are fully supporting this land grab. There is not one single land trust that supports communities and their economic growth even though they say they are all about the people. Look in the Swan Valley--a friend of mine is watching NC and TPL setting aside some land for economic development but, surprise-surprise, only some non- profits are getting any benefits, not the people that need jobs. Our generation is leaving a real mess to future generations with this massive land grab and government owned lands.

Indy
Indy

Baffling paranoid, radical ramblings. Are you serious? If you are trying to be funny, excuse me--but I think you are serious. Have you ever been up there to Deer Creek? What value would it hold to keep that land in the private sector? Jobs? Where? What jobs have been created there in the last decade save the current logging that is only happening because of this transaction. The great majority of it was already been logged off long ago. Have you enjoyed any of the hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, or ANYTHING on any of the public lands that encircle Missoula? Unbelievable, fear-mongering rubbish. The real mess being created is the proliferation of paranoid conservative ideologue diatribe you are regurgitating.

tinlizzie
tinlizzie

But where will all the rednecks go to party now?

Indy
Indy

Fantastic! This is the type of work that truly makes Missoula a unique place. The interlinking of recreational lands and recreation close to town really makes Missoula stand apart. This is a perfect example of the benefits of public land management and the function and value of a wonderfully operated nonprofit. Under corporate management, Deer Creek became a party haven for drunken teens and a garbage dump. Great job to everyone that acknowledged the best use for this land and worked for this deal (Plum Creek, TNC, USFS)!

skater grandpa
skater grandpa

Good job folks who put this together. Thanks.

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