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Helena City-County Building

Helena City-County Building

The Lewis and Clark County Commission has agreed to use $273,303 from the open space bond fund for a 110-acre expansion of Helena’s Mount Ascension Natural Park.

The initial request on the application sponsored by the Prickly Pear Land Trust had called for $260,000, but $13,303 was added to cover related costs.

The appraised value of the properties is about $392,000, which is also the sales price. A landowner donation of $36,000 and funds from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust will fund the remainder of the purchase, said Mary Hollow, executive director of the Prickly Pear Land Trust.

A county staff report said the costs were for “project/administrative costs” and “are non-staff expenses for the transfer of these parcels to the city, pursuant to the requirements of the Lewis and Clark County Open Space Bond.”

These related expenses paid for some of the appraisal costs, mineral reports and testing, Hollow explained.

A citizen advisory panel that reviewed the proposed use of the open space bond was unanimous in its support, but split with eight members in favor, one voting no and two abstaining on including the funds for related costs in the overall funding request, a county staff report noted.

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Commissioners were told by county staff that Missoula County doesn’t include funds for such costs, although Ravalli County does. It was uncertain whether the open space program for Gallatin County allowed their inclusion.

Hollow said after the meeting that Missoula County does allow the inclusion of funds for such costs.

Commission Chairman Andy Hunthausen and Commissioner Mike Murray voted in support of using the $273,303 toward the purchase of the two lots. Commissioner Susan Good Geise was absent and Hunthausen said she was traveling.

The money comes from a $10 million bond approved by voters in November 2008. The bond is intended for “protecting drinking water sources and ground water quality; protecting water quality in and along rivers and streams; conserving working farm, ranch and forest lands; protecting wildlife areas; preserving open lands and natural areas; providing for recreation; and managing growth and development.”

The two parcels were sought for the park for reasons that include their location in an important wildlife corridor and their ability to provide winter grounds for elk as well as habitat for birds and other wildlife, according to the application.

The last unprotected section of the Entertainment Trail will now be secured and the two tracts will provide a buffer between residential development and both the core natural area of Mount Ascension Natural Park and the Helena National Forest.

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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