On Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service awarded the Mount Dean Stone Community Forest Project a $600,000 grant to maintain public access and preserve open spaces, bringing Mount Dean Stone’s largest conservation project closer to reality. .
The application, submitted by Five Valleys Land Trust, will be used to create a community forest of more than 1,000 acres behind Mount Dean Stone. The property is currently owned by The Nature Conservancy and has been offered for public acquisition.
“This project has been ongoing for several years,” said Ben Horan, deputy director of Five Valleys Land Trust. “It really is a broad community effort.”
The goal of securing a large expanse of open space in the South Hills has progressed in spurts over the past few years. The Mount Dean Stone Committee is made up of over 20 local organizations, giving it strong local support to ensure public access.
But it took time and money, and the local partnership brought Dean Stone’s biggest project closer to adding the mountain to the ring of open space surrounding the Missoula Valley.
“This project will bring many benefits to the Missoula community and we look forward to working on this partnership together,” said Regional Forester Leanne Marten.
Since 2016, Five Valleys has worked with more than a dozen Mount Dean Stone landowners to protect and transfer 580 acres on the mountain’s north face to the City of Missoula’s Protected Land Inventory.
This effort included the Barmeyer and Sousa trails and, more recently, the House of Sky Trail. Horan said the Mount Dean Stone Community Forest Project marks the next step in achieving a goal started more than five years ago.
“Community use of Mount Dean Stone for hiking and nature has been possible for decades thanks to the generous open land policies of various forestry companies,” Horan said. “That access could have been lost, but thanks to the visionary work of The Nature Conservancy and the support of the Forest Service, the people of Missoul now have the opportunity to envision a public outcome for the mountain.”
The Mount Dean Stone Community Forest will include the House of Sky Trail, which hugs the mountain ridge line and descends into the West Fork of Deep Creek.
The 4.6 mile route offers stunning views of the surrounding valleys. The area also provides vital habitat for a range of species and connectivity between ecosystems.
“This grant brings Missoulians closer to permanent, legal, and public access to a special landscape,” said Whitney Schwab, Executive Director of Five Valleys. “There is still work to be done to fund the acquisition of the entire 2,490-acre property, but this grant is a big step forward in ensuring the community can enjoy more than 1,000 acres in perpetuity. along the southern horizon.