Tenmile Creek channels waters from the mountains west of Helena, winding through the Helena Valley on its way to Lake Helena.
The only urban public access to the creek comes at the park that bears its name, and on Tuesday Prickly Pear Land Trust celebrated Tenmile Creek Park’s official opening with a media tour focused on the partnerships that brought the project to fruition.
The park has been open to the public since 2016, when Prickly Pear acquired it along with the nearby Sevenmile Creek parcel. But the purchase was only the first step, as the land trust wanted to develop trails and install signage ahead of Tuesday’s official opening.
Tenmile is 180 acres located along the creek and neighbors the Archie Bray Center, providing loop trails and creek access. The property was once slated for a 700-home subdivision, when Prickly Pear, Lewis and Clark County and the Department of Defense with Fort Harrison entered into the conversation.
“Prickly Pear, the fort and Lewis and Clark County have been working on protecting this land for about 10 years for the purpose of maintaining the operational ability of Fort Harrison and the Montana Army National Guard and for the county’s purpose and goal not wanting a subdivision in the floodplain,” said PPLT Executive Director Mary Hollow.
The project has earned national recognition for the number of partners that worked on it, she added.
Prickly Pear currently has a $330,000 request for a county open space bond as part of the final closing on the purchase.
The Tenmile purchase came both through Prickly Pear and the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program, which makes the park a unique funding agreement in Montana.
“This is a big benefit to Fort Harrison and our operations there,” said Col. James Hesterberg.
Across the country, the Army has recognized that development near military installations can be incompatible due to issues such as noise and dust. That can lead to restricted operations that do not allow necessary training to take place, he said.
Hesterberg also noted the benefits to those commuting to the fort and VA by bike and the use of the park for running.
Along the creek, a bridge accesses neighboring property owned by Spring Meadow Resources, which serves clients with disabilities. Spring Meadow donated an easement for a trail across the property, and Executive Director Jim Bissett lauded the benefits for the public and his organization.
“The good thing about bridges is they join things, they bring two entities together,” he said. “With that bridge it definitely brought the whole connection of the trail system, but as well with the individuals we serve with disabilities to get out and recreate.”
A little farther to the west, the trail connects with a newly constructed trail along the edge of Spring Meadow Lake State Park and the Montana WILD education center, and then to the Centennial Trail through Helena.
“To me it demonstrates the power of partnerships,” said FWP Director Martha Williams. “I think that’s just a benefit of the community to have those connections, and I hope it will highlight Montana Wild" and connect the students who come here.
In addition to connecting to the state park, Tenmile was also able to secure a $45,000 grant through FWP for signage and additional work on the property.
The property is not without its challenges. The area saw serious flooding this spring that damaged some trails and put a bridge at risk. Tenmile also has issues with weeds that Prickly Pear has spent $15,000 so far to address. Weeds can be especially difficult because the remedy for one weed may exacerbate another, Hollow said.
Prickly Pear has been approached to do a number of things with the park, she said, including a community garden, bike park, amphitheater or wedding venue. For now, the land trust has no plans to proceed with anything major until it gets a better handle on how the current park is used by the public.