Trail Easement

Alex King walks his dog Odin on a trail that links Ron's River Trail with Hellgate Park east of Missoula College on Thursday. Missoula County commissioners allowed a hearing to proceed toward approving open space funds to pay for an easement on the dirt path portion of the trail, guaranteeing public access to that section.

Missoula County commissioners approved a public hearing for a $91,300 plan to preserve a trail along the Clark Fork River between Missoula College and East Missoula.

At an administrative meeting Thursday, Commissioners Nicole Rowley and Josh Slotnick allowed a hearing to proceed on ensuring that a portion of a path that links to Ron’s River Trail will be permanently open to hikers, bikers and joggers.

“We think of this as a bit of a jigsaw project,” said Kylie Paul, the natural resource specialist for Missoula County.

“It’s small, but it’s important that the trail not get disrupted.”

The portion in question, a narrow dirt path along the river, sits on a parcel of land between an apartment complex and Hellgate Park on the river’s north bank. The money would pay for an easement on the property, a formal guarantee that no landowner could keep the public from gaining access to the trail.   

In June 2018, the Missoulian reported that the city temporarily bought the half-acre of land to prevent a developer from building a condominium on which the path sits. The city will retain ownership until establishing the easement.

“Whoever ends up buying this piece of land, this easement will make sure that the trail will stay unimpeded,” Paul said.

Funding for the easement will come from the 2006 Open Space Bond that provided millions of dollars for conservation, agricultural and public access projects in the city and county. Several city planning documents, such as the Activate Missoula 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan, cite preserving the trail network along the Clark Fork River as a priority.

According to Elizabeth Erickson, the park and open space acquisitions attorney for the city of Missoula, the easement is one of several planned with a long-rang goal of connecting downtown with paths along the northern and southern banks of the Clark Fork River.

“With this easement, residents will have one contiguous path from Missoula College to Hellgate Park,” she said.

During the meeting, commissioners also granted a hearing for $450,000 in funds from the 2006 bond to go toward securing 126 acres of land near Grant Creek.

A public hearing on the Clark Fork River easement, with both city and county officials present, will be held in June.

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