The Helena National Forest grew by nearly 400 acres this week when property in York Gulch was conveyed to the forest from nonprofit owners.
Roughly 2 miles east of York below Hedges Mountain, York Gulch provides wildlife habitat and recreation on public land. Traditional access has come from a private road, but getting a permanent easement for public access proved difficult with multiple landowners.
Another access road to the gulch had never been open to the public, and various nonprofits went to work to acquire access with the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation buying a 286-acre inholding and Prickly Pear Land Trust buying 100 acres from Betty Tiddy of Helena, who wanted to see her property become part of the national forest, said PPLT Executive Director Andy Baur.
The property is accessed from Jim Town Road east of York, and Forest Roads #4136 A1, A2, A3 and A4 to Hedges Mountain.
“Mrs. Tiddy was incredibly cooperative and wanted to see that go into public ownership,” he said. “We worked with the Conservation Fund for interim financing that gives loans to nonprofits like us at reasonable rates, and we were able to acquire that in a short amount of time.”
Both properties were made up of 19 connected, heavily used mining claims, and that required some cleanup before conveyance could go forward. Since 2009, remediation took place between the Forest Service, Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation and the Lewis and Clark Conservation District to remove mining waste. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality then signed off on the cleanup and reclamation with a letter of approval, said Jeanne Holmgren, real estate specialist with the Helena National Forest.
“It’s a popular area for the local community, and we got a lot of support from York and the community at large,” she said. “It’s ensures that land will be open and available for the public and it’s just an exciting project.”
The properties appraised for nearly $1 million, and funding for the projects also came from The Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Lewis and Clark County Open Space Bond, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Mule Deer Foundation.
“It took some great partnerships, and the public now gets a nice piece of land, the community of York benefits and it’s great habitat and a great wildlife corridor,” Baur said.