The recreation corridor between Missoula's eastern edge and the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers just got 69 acres closer to connected.

Five Valleys Land Trust officials closed a deal with the Randy Jacobs family for a crucial piece of land along Deer Creek Road on Friday, adding another link to an anticipated bike trail between the University of Montana campus and Bonner.

Jacobs' father bought 700 acres of Bandmann Flats in the 1920s. The property included most of the big U-bend between East Missoula and West Riverside.

Over the years, the family sold parts of it, including what became the Canyon River Golf Club and housing in 2001. The strip at the base of University Mountain was the last of the family holdings there.

When he was president of Missoula's First National Bank, Randy Jacobs got to herald the institution's centennial in 1973. Now 95, Jacobs still recalled the event with clarity.

"Rather than spend a lot of money on a celebration and dinner for bigwigs, we decided to do something for the community," he said. "(Missoula businessman and former Mayor) John Toole was on the board of directors at the time, and he was very active in community projects. So we came up with the idea of donating Jacobs Island to the city for a park."

A few years later, the Kim Williams Trail rolled down the old railroad right-of-way next to the island. It headed east along the base of Mount Sentinel until it ran into an active railroad track where Interstate 90 crosses the Clark Fork River.

"When I first moved to Missoula, I jumped on the Kim Williams Trail," Five Valleys Land Trust executive director Grant Keir said. "I remember coming to the end and thinking - this doesn't seem finished."

Then came the effort to remove Milltown Dam and build a major state park at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers. The regular vantage point to watch the reclamation work was a bluff overlooking the dam - part of which happened to be owned by the Jacobs family.

The 69-acre parcel runs in a narrow strip between the old rail line and the mountainside just above Deer Creek Road. On the west end is the Deer Creek Shooting Center. The east end stops at the railroad tunnel that goes under the bluff. Deer Creek Road runs diagonally through most of it as it climbs over a shoulder of the mountain on its way to Pattee Canyon.

Five Valleys Land Trust often acts as a bridge for private landowners who want to transfer some or all of their development rights to the public. The organization buys land or takes conservation easements, which will later be sold to a state or federal land managing agency.

Preliminary discussions between Five Valleys and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks considered the idea of making the Jacobs property a western gateway to the new park. Missoula's city-county open space programs are also interested in extending the trail system. So much interest was in place, Keir said, Five Valleys opted to buy the property without having a buyer in place.

The land appraised at about $300,000, but the Jacobs family was willing to sell it for $250,000. Keir said the discount convinced his colleagues to take the risk on the purchase.

"We have been aware completing the Kim Williams Trail has been a high priority for a while with the city," Keir said. "And when we saw the state park was a done deal, we decided to take the opportunity. A lot of this stuff is still a plan in the works."

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


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