HELENA - A new 6,200-acre state park planned for Fish Creek near Missoula cleared another hurdle here Wednesday when Montana's Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners unanimously approved the purchase.
The commission voted 4-0 to buy the park. A fifth member, Shane Colton of Billings, did not attend the meeting.
A final vote on the park will come from the Montana Land Board, which is expected to take up the $17.35 million purchase at its March 18 meeting.
The new park, in the Fish Creek drainage south of Alberton, is part of a 41,000-acre state acquisition from the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust. The conservancy bought the land from Plum Creek Timber Co. as part of the Montana Legacy Project, through which the timber company is shedding 310,000 acres of Montana forests to public or conservation ownership.
The remaining 34,780 acres of the Fish Creek acquisition will become a wildlife management area, also owned by the state and managed by Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The Fish Creek park was initially conceived as being about 7,650 acres, but some 1,400 acres were sliced off after the value of the entire 41,000-acre parcel was assessed at almost $22 million.
The Nature Conservancy is selling the parcel to the state for a reduced price of about $17.4 million and couldn't afford to write off any more.
Montana State Parks will pay only a small share of that, said Chas Van Genderen, state parks administrator. But given the higher price tag, the state couldn't afford to buy the whole 7,650 acres. Instead, that land will be part of a wildlife management area and paid for with federal grant money and matching state money set aside for habitat preservation.
Those pots of money aren't available to buy new parkland.
The change also allows the state to address the concerns of some neighbors who were worried campers and other park users might trespass onto private land.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Jennifer McKee can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.