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Missoula to address damage done by informal trails on Mount Jumbo

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Mount Jumbo

Missoula Parks and Recreation Department has developed a draft plan to address the impacts of unofficial, non-sanctioned trails on Mount Jumbo.

A proliferation of unofficial, non-sanctioned trails in the Mount Jumbo Saddle and Lincoln Hills areas near Missoula’s Rattlesnake neighborhood is damaging the ecosystem and disturbing wildlife habitat.

So now, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has developed a draft trails plan to address the impacts and improve the recreational user experience.

"The Band-Aids we've been putting on this haven't resolved the problem," said Jeff Gicklhorn, a conservation lands program manager for the city.

The popular Mount Jumbo trail system that's the focus of the changes is comprised of about 22 city-owned acres. Many of those trails lead to popular state and federal lands nearby.

“Numerous user-created trails exist in this planning unit,” Gicklhorn said in a memo to the city’s Parks and Recreation board. “Several of these trails pass through important wildlife and plant habitat and/or lead users to trespass on adjacent property.”

The city has tried to close off trails, but people will often just start a new trail 10 or 20 feet away, Gicklhorn said.

“Efforts to close and restore these trails have been met with limited success due to a variety of reasons, including increasing recreational demand and congestion on existing trails, historical use patterns, lack of user knowledge and deliberate sabotage, among others,” he explained.

Signage has not been effective, he added.

The area has seen an explosion in use since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, he noted.

“Anybody who has recreated on Mount Jumbo in the last two years has probably noticed a significant amount of increased use, especially since the pandemic, and a proliferation of non-designated trails,” he said. “The conservation lands program has known for quite a while this area has natural resource impacts as far as non-trail usage.”

The Mount Jumbo Saddle trail management unit encompasses a variety of unique natural resource features and values, he said. There’s a vernal pond that provides valuable habitat and supports a unique wetland plant community. There’s a community of sensitive and unique plants, including native grasses and wildflowers, along with a perennial spring that supports a 2.7-acre trembling aspen and Douglas hawthorn riparian habitat.

“Wooded draws on Mount Jumbo are specifically highlighted in the Conservation Lands Management Plan as providing critical habitat for migratory songbirds,” Gicklhorn said. “Additionally, hawthorn thickets are a key source of natural food for black bears in this area, which help sustain bears at critical times of the year and keep them out of human food sources.”

Off-trail use by hikers, bicyclists and dogs tramples native plants, contributes to erosion and disturbs wildlife habitat.

“Often, users are unaware that they are not on designated system trails and do not realize the impact their use may be having on the surrounding natural resources,” Gicklhorn said. “Additionally, results from public (surveys) indicate strong interest in the natural resource values in this area and support for taking actions to mitigate recreational impacts to these resources.”

The plan to improve the area includes building a new logical trail system, installing fencing, installing new signage and establishing a habitat buffer zone.

“The preferred alternative both realigns existing trails as well as adopts and upgrades portions of existing user-created social trails,” Gicklhorn said. “All designated trails will be constructed or upgraded to meet adopted trail construction standards, while all closed trails will be restored."

The area will be separated into a shared-use zone and a pedestrian-only zone, and city staff will minimize the number of intersections where allowed use changes between the zones.

The plan simplifies the user experience and navigation within the zone and reduces the potential for user conflict while still providing efficient and enjoyable connections to adjacent trail management units, he said.

Becky Goodrich, a communications specialist for the Parks and Recreation Department, said there will be a two-week public comment period on the plan.

“The purpose of the plan is to remove a network of user-related trails that don’t meet proper trail specifications and cause erosion and things like that,” Goodrich said. “This will direct traffic to proper trails and minimize conflict.”

Gicklhorn said the goal is to address natural resource impacts from social trail creation and usage.

“Therefore, we are both sort of realigning, or redesigning, some existing trails,” he said. “We are adopting and upgrading some of those old social trails that create very logical trail connections.”

To view the plan and comment, visit online at engagemissoula.com/lincoln-hills-trail-plan.

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