Conservationists are seeking solutions after a 144-acre tract of private land encompassing several Mount Helena trails was listed for sale for potential home development.
However, the $3.8 million asking price for the property could hinder any future conservation efforts.
The LeGrande Cannon Trail is one of several that crosses the land. Although the property has always been privately owned, the former owner allowed the public to access it.
The owner's estate listed the property with Re/Max of Helena after he died. A buyer has the “opportunity to annex into the city or plan a combination city, county and conservation approach,” the listing says. “These will make beautiful homesites.”
Mary Hollow, executive director of Prickly Pear Land Trust, said the trust is trying to keep the land south of LeGrande Cannon Trail public but can’t afford to purchase it. Hollow said LeGrande Cannon is one of the few flat trails in the system and is frequented by children and people with physical limitations.
The property also includes Road to Mars and several other trails, Hollow said.
“We’ve been trying to work with families, attorneys, real estate agents to try and have an outcome that would maintain land to the south as open space,” Hollow said. “This one is in a dollar range that just exceeds any funding availability for us to purchase it outright. We have to be more creative this time. There are no guarantees.”
Over the past 20 years, Hollow said Prickly Pear has done extensive work to buy smaller parcels of land adjacent to Mount Helena City Park to expand the trail system. The area is now robust and Hollow said it has raised property values, which makes it more expensive for Prickly Pear to do business.
Hollow said the estate has not expressed interest in donating any of the land.
“Ultimately I think they are wanting to find someone to purchase that land and potentially donate or find an end solution that would mirror what the land trust would do,” she said. “Ideally we would like to find a conservation buyer who will make it work.”
If a developer purchases the land with the intention to only build homes, they will have to consider potential fire danger. The city has made significant investments in mitigating fire danger and might not want an urban interface built so close to timber with few water sources.
“Those are two of the major considerations any developer would have to work with the city on,” Hollow said.
Re/Max agent Joseph Mueller declined to comment, and the estate couldn’t be reached in time for this story.