The Lewis and Clark County Commission this week agreed to contribute $205,000 toward the purchase of 286 acres prized for its recreational and wildlife value that will be conveyed to the U.S. Forest Service.
The commission had indicated its interest in using the bond fund toward the purchase and on Thursday gave its final consent to this use of the money.
The property is 18 miles northeast of Helena and two miles east of York on Black Bear Road. The land extends along
2 1/2 miles of the gulch and was given to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Foundation in 2005 as a gift. The foundation is now known as the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation.
The purchase of the property, valued at more than $660,000, will close in two phases, said Andy Bauer, executive director of the Prickly Pear Land Trust, which spearheaded the project. The land is anticipated to be completely in the care of the Forest Service, possibly prior to October.
Funds from the county being used in the purchase will come from an open space bond, while $25,000 will come from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and an equal amount will be provided by the Mule Deer Foundation. The Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation is making a $160,000 contribution through the value that it places on its property, Baur said.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust is providing $54,300, and the remainder of the purchase price will come from the Forest Service, he added.
All three county commissioners approved the purchase, said Eric Bryson, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Commission Chairwoman Susan Good Geise, who initially expressed reservations about the purchase, said on Friday that she supported it as access issues had been resolved through the purchase of another parcel that would be conveyed to the Forest Service along with this foundation’s land.
The Forest Service was good about responding to her concerns about weed management, she said, adding that there could be a new emphasis on controlling weeds on forest lands, as the plan for the Helena and the Lewis and Clark national forests is in the process of being revised.
“People in York really, really seem to want this very much,” she said, noting that the land provides excellent opportunities for hunting.
“The county commission heard pretty vocal support from the residents of York,” Bryson said, adding that local support plus the leveraging of the open space bond money with other funds was convincing for them.
The land involves 14 former mining claims, and those areas have been remediated, said Bryson and Geise.
Environmental impacts from mining on the claims have been addressed, and substantial work was performed in 2009 to clean up the area, a county staff report noted in August.
Hazardous wastes were removed and the location of former mines reclaimed. Mining adits were filled, and all work was done to Montana Department of Environmental Quality standards, the report stated.
A Forest Service official involved in the acquisition could not be reached for comment by press time.
“It’s an amazing piece of property,” Baur said. “It’s got tremendous wildlife values.”
According to the Prickly Pear Land Trust’s application to the county’s open lands program, which is funded by the Land, Water and Wildlife Bonds, “Not only does this project offer incredible recreation in the forms of hunting, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and ATV use, but excellent wildlife habitat as well.”
The acquisition of the land, the application notes, will include resolving public access issues.
The Prickly Pear Land Trust will be including 100 acres it purchased in the deal to ensure the public has access to the land, Baur said.
Without the purchase of the property and its transfer into public ownership, the application noted, the owner may need to place the land on the market and its sale could result in residential development.
“Subdivision and development in this location would be particularly unfortunate as this is a narrow and confined drainage that is highly susceptible to wildfire,” the application stated.