The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest grew by 620 acres following the acquisition of a section of land along the southern Rocky Mountain Front.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation conveyed ownership earlier this week of the Green Mountain National Trails property located about 35 miles east of Lincoln. The section, which was owned by the Ingersoll family, was surrounded on three sides by federal land.
Foundation CEO Kyle Weaver described the property as an important and scenic stretch of wildlife habitat, and thanked the Ingersolls for working with them to open the area to hunters and hikers.
"This land provides crucial year-round habitat for elk, mule deer, whitetail deer and other species, plus it lies within the Continental Divide Grizzly Bear Recovery Area," said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. "It is also important to hikers since it contains a portion of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and is within the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail corridor."
A portion of the Continental Divide trail that had run through the property was relocated to public land several years ago. According to the elk foundation, the trail will be returned to its historic route.
With its proximity to adjacent national forest, officials will manage it similarly. The property, which partially burned in the 2017 Alice Creek fire, will not have any significant designations other than being part of the grizzly recovery area, said Kathy Bushnell, Forest Service public affairs officer.
Purchase price of the property was $837,000, of which $745,000 came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The remainder came from the elk foundation, she said.
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The fund, which recently saw permanent authorization, uses offshore oil and gas royalties for a variety of land acquisitions with conservation goals.
The property opens up public access and also improves access from east of the Continental Divide to about 2,000 acres of additional public lands, according to RMEF.
“It is dominated by ponderosa pine and features small grass meadows, aspen groves and holds springs that serve as headwaters for Green Creek and the middle fork of the Dearborn River,” the elk foundation said in a news release.
The Montana Wilderness Association is especially interested in the Continental Divide trail as a wild corridor, said the association’s John Gatchell.
“It’s a remote, quiet and lovely area with fantastic views to the north into the Scapegoat Wilderness and onto the prairie,” he said. “It’s not the biggest piece of property but it is extremely valuable, so a big thanks to the generosity of the Ingersoll family and the good work of the Forest Service and RMEF.”
The property’s proximity to where Lewis and Clark as well as Native Americans crossed the Divide makes it historically significant as well, he said.
“That area for thousands of years has been a crossroads for hunters. And it’s a place that you go up to the top of the Continental Divide and pretty much see what Meriwether Lewis saw,” Gatchell said. “It’s a really rich historic site.”