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Anglers may get enhanced access to Prickly Pear Creek under a proposed fishing access site for the Helena valley.

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission gave initial approval Thursday to undertake an Environmental Assessment for a portion of the failed Aspen Trail Ranch subdivision.

The Prickly Pear Land Trust is establishing a conservation easement on the 266-acre parcel of farmland, which will prohibit its subdivision for residential purchases and encourages the current agricultural use to continue.

The parcel currently is owned by Mountain West Bank, but the land trust wants to cleave off 35 acres for a public park and fishing access site, with the remainder of the parcel going to an adjoining landowner.

Currently there isn’t any formal public access sites on Prickly Pear Creek in the valley, and to get to the stream anglers must use county road bridges, go through state land or seek landowner permission.

“This seems like a really good project,” FWP Commissioner Dan Vermillion said, adding that he hopes local students might get involved in it.

Andy Baur, executive director of the land trust, said this is a new type of project for them and they’re excited to move forward.

“There has been quite a bit of success with recreational opportunity in the South Hills, now we’d like to have some of those same kinds of opportunities in the Helena Valley,” he said. “We’re calling it a heritage project, with access and recreational opportunities but also protecting agricultural lands.”

In July, the Lewis and Clark County Commission approved a proposal to use $250,000 of the $10 million Open Lands Bond to secure the easement on the property and purchase the park. The property is north of York Road and about 1,500 feet of Prickly Pear Creek runs through it.

Bruce Rich, the FWP fisheries bureau chief, noted in the staff report that the high-quality seasonal fishery on Prickly Pear Creek has benefitted from recent improvements in flows, and a spring creek on the property has high restoration potential.

Several outbuildings and a house are on the parcel, but they would be removed prior to FWP accepting the donation. One of the buildings, however, is an ice house that might have some local historic significance and is potentially in good enough condition to be retained.

The property is the site of a failed “sustainable” subdivision known as the Aspen Trail Ranch. Developer Richard Bowen purchased the land in 2006 and wanted to build an environmentally friendly community with bike trails, community gardens, renewable energy generation and about 650 homes, along with businesses and community centers.

However, after the city of Helena approved a 325-unit subdivision, area residents filed a lawsuit in opposition to the project. A district court judge ruled that the city failed to weigh the development’s impact on floodplain, habitat and water quality, and the Montana Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2010.

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or

Follow Eve on Twitter @IR_EveByron


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