Generation after generation in the Missoula Valley have enjoyed the wild and open lands just out the front door. Since the days of the first white settlement, and for the Native Peoples who were already here, the open slopes and timbered mountains that surround us, and the clear flowing rivers that connect us have generously given of their natural wealth for our sustenance and enjoyment.
For more than a century, the grassy, sun-‐drenched slopes of Mount Sentinel and ponderosa groves and meadows of Pattee Canyon have provided enjoyment for area residents. The acreage overlooks the mouth of Pattee Canyon and the site of one of the Missoula Valley’s first farming operations. David Pattee began farming there in 1871, and soon augmented the farm with flour and sawmill operations. Timber for the mill came from the thick stands of old-‐growth thriving on the slopes of Mount Sentinel, Dean Stone Mountain and Pattee Canyon much of which was later set aside for military use as the Fort Missoula Timber Reserve. With the coming of the National Forest system, the upper reaches of the canyon became one of Montana’s earliest and most popular designated recreation areas. At one time, it was even hoped that a ski area could be established in the canyon. Truly one of Missoula’s open space gems the whole of Mount Sentinel was designated a “Cornerstone” in the 1995 “Urban Open Space Plan.”
That link to community, to our history, and to the families and friends who have found all kinds of recreational pleasures there explains why a group of citizens, agency officials and politicians gathered at the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area on July 12, 2003 to celebrate the transfer to public ownership of one of the most important parcels in the Mount Sentinel-‐ Pattee Canyon complex.
As with all good things, the acquisition took time. In 1998, Five Valleys initiated discussions about protecting the property with the family of longtime owners, Walter and Evelyn Cox. The City of Missoula was an early partner, and in 2000 purchased 475 acres on the face of Mount Sentinel using open space bond funds.
The focus then shifted to the south of the mountain, where in 2001, Five Valleys agreed to a purchase option with the Cox family to acquire the remaining 475 acres. The City of Missoula again came forward with a $100,000 commitment. Wide support from the public, the City of Missoula and the Missoula County Commissioners then caught the attention of the Montana Congressional delegation. Led by Sen. Conrad Burns, the delegation secured federal Land and Water Conservation funding for the remaining $800,000 needed to complete the purchase. It was another in a proud tradition of private-‐public partnerships that has succeeded in helping to protect land the community values highly. Now, thanks to the vision and generosity of the Cox family, the support of our local governments, state and federal agencies, our Congressional delegation, and to the hard work of so many Missoulians who cherish it, the mountain will always remain open and wild for us all to enjoy. It is truly one of our open space treasures.