A 202-acre parcel surrounding Rock Creek’s confluence with the Clark Fork River cleared its last financial hurdle on the way to public ownership.
Gov. Steve Bullock approved spending $400,000 of the state’s Natural Resource Damage Program settlement funds to help Five Valleys Land Trust buy the land from a private owner in 2012 for $1.6 million. FVLT intends to eventually transfer it to public ownership.
Missoula County’s Open Space Fund, the Rock Creek Trust, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Trout Unlimited, Resources Legacy Fund and private donors contributed the balance of the bill.
The natural resource damage funds come from a 1998 settlement agreement between the state of Montana and Atlantic Richfield Co. for mine-waste damage to the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. While much of that fund goes to cleaning the Clark Fork, portions were also earmarked to replace lands permanently ruined by toxic heavy metal contamination from the smelters at Butte and Anaconda.
“This was the culmination of an almost 30-year effort by citizens and citizen groups all over western Montana to preserve a unique ecosystem,” said Bill Rossbach, chairman of the state’s Upper Clark Fork Basin Citizen Advisory Council. “Rock Creek is a very special place and is the keystone to holding that ecosystem together. What was important to the council was that multiple private and public entities committed financial resources to make this project happen.”
After acquiring title to the land last summer, Five Valleys Land Trust organized several volunteer efforts to remove old fencing and debris, pull noxious weeds and build a five-car parking lot at the property.
Next spring, students in Missoula College’s heavy equipment operation program will remove the earthen berm along Rock Creek Road and fill in a large pond that was excavated by the previous owner. Students from the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation are conducting site visits to help design the restoration plan.
The property covers both sides of Rock Creek, the blue-ribbon trout stream east of Missoula. It’s also a wildlife corridor for moose, black bear and mountain lions moving through the river bottom. The public can use it to reach Rock Creek, the Clark Fork River and adjacent U.S. Forest Service land.