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The Falls Creek waterfall

The Falls Creek waterfall is one of many natural features on a 440-acre piece of ranchland southwest of Augusta that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation would like to open to public access.

The Lewis and Clark County Commission reopened public comment Thursday on a proposal to fund a major public access project near Augusta.

The commission was slated to vote on funding for the Falls Creek access project along the Dearborn River, but issues with required legal notices turned what was supposed to be a decision hearing into a public meeting Thursday. Commissioners took public testimony and then elected to reopen the comment period for 30 days and reschedule the hearing after.

“We’ve already received a ton of public support, so this will be the final push before the public hearing,” said Sam Neill, county planner and open lands coordinator with the county.

In addition to supportive phone calls, the county received 28 written letters of support, which Neill called “overwhelming” for a county open space bond request. County legal officials have also reviewed and sent a letter of approval for the project, she said.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation brought Falls Creek to the commission with a request for open space bond funding. The 442-acre parcel has a purchase price of $2.46 million, and the foundation requested $1.5 million in bond funding. Commissioners have mentioned $1 million as a likely funding level.

Once purchased from the Barrett family, the property will open up access to about 26,000 acres of Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The property also includes the scenic waterfall giving the creek its name, which is currently inaccessible to the public.

“In terms of the county commission meeting and open space program, we were really pleased with the support,” said Mike Mueller with RMEF, noting support from the Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and conservation groups.

The foundation has raised about $850,000 to date toward the project, leaving about $1.6 million.

“If the county comes in that’s really going to help,” Mueller said.

While access remains closed until the purchase, the foundation would like to see it open in time for the general hunting season, he said.

No date has been set for a public hearing, but county officials said information on the project and public comment period will be posted to the county website at https://www.lccountymt.gov/home.html.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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