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mountain water reservoir

Mountain Water's 1 million-gallon dome reservoir sits on the north side of Missoula next to the Waterworks Hill trailhead.

There’s no letter or symbol on a hillside marking its presence, but anyone looking at the mountains around Missoula sees the legacy of the Rattlesnake Land Trust.

On Monday, the 20-year-old volunteer organization handed over the files and accounts for almost 200 acres of open space land to the full-time staff of Five Valleys Land Trust.

While relatively small compared to the several thousand acres held by the city of Missoula, Five Valleys and other organizations, the acres tend to be in crucial spots, like the space between the parking lot and the ridgeline of the popular Waterworks Hill hiking area.

“We got started as Save Open Space in order to help pass the city’s first open space bond,” said trust member Janet Sproull. “At the time, we really felt there was a need for urban open space. Development was just raging around here.”

The all-volunteer group morphed from advocacy to actually arranging public access to open spaces and protecting sensitive landscapes.

Over the years, it negotiated eight conservation easements. They include some of the trailhead points between the Rattlesnake Valley's residential neighborhoods and the U.S. Forest Service’s Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness, as well as fragile parts of Mount Jumbo.

One other isn't even in the Rattlesnake, but off Mullan Road.

“One of my favorites was the conservation easement on the Flynn Ranch,” Sproull said. That piece of farmland west of Missoula recalls some of the Missoula Valley’s earliest settlement history.

While many land trusts across the United States operate on the all-volunteer model, Sproull said the responsibilities of maintaining the properties and funding title and legal work were mounting.

About three years ago, Rattlesnake Land Trust members started talking with city officials and Five Valleys Land Trust about finding a new home for the effort.

“It was a big task to meet the challenge of perpetuity,” FVLT Director Grant Kier said. “They were looking for someone to carry on their tradition, and we were happy to do it.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.