Mount Jumbo’s open slopes and timbered flanks guard the mouth of Hellgate Canyon north of the Clark Fork River, providing important wildlife habitat and expansive views from the Missoula Valley. The mountain has helped shape and define life in the Missoula area for generations. Five Valleys Land Trust’s efforts to protect Mount Jumbo began in 1991 with the launching of the “Land and Waters for Wildlife” project. The first goal was to conserve critical wildlife habitat for the three elk herds in the Missoula Valley, located around O’Brien Creek, Grant Creek, and Mount Jumbo, an area encompassing 6000 acres and habitat for more than 400 elk. Five Valleys joined in this effort with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Lolo National Forest, Missoula County, and the UM Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. Five Valleys agreed to take on the effort of protecting Mt. Jumbo, and by 1993, we were negotiating with four Mount Jumbo landowners.
Local interest in the effort was growing and two county-wide attempts to pass an open space bond targeting Mount Jumbo met with failure in 1994. But by 1995, Five Valleys had secured an option to purchase the largest block of the mountain and a new campaign was launched to pass a city-wide bond with a focus on protecting Mount Jumbo. A citizen committee was formed, and Five Valleys led the campaign. The entire community became engaged in the effort, from schools to church groups to service organizatons, and both city and county governments.
Thanks to the incredible reach and impact of this campaign, Mount Jumbo (and the community effort to protect it) became a household word. By the fall of 1995, Five Valleys had signed options to purchase all four privately owned properties on Mount Jumbo totaling more than 1,600 acres for a total of $3.3 million. On a snowy November day in 1995 the citizens of Missoula turned out to vote overwhelmingly in favor of a $5 million dollar open space bond, with $2 million earmarked for Mount Jumbo. Five Valleys worked to raise the additional $1.3 million needed to complete the purchases, and thanks to the overwhelming support of the Missoula community, Save Open Space, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy, the last of the four properties was purchased. By April 1997, ownership of Mount Jumbo had been transferred to the City of Missoula, with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Forest Service both assuming ownership of smaller parcels. While Five Valleys took the lead, protecting Mount Jumbo was truly a community effort, and a testament to the value that the Missoula community places on the landscape. Today, Mount Jumbo continues to sustain the elk herd; graces the valley with its beauty; and provides a host of open land recreation opportunities on our urban fringe. This open space cornerstone of the Missoula Valley will continue to shape and define our community for generations to come.