Open lands are a community value. That’s why Five Valleys is thrilled to have recently finalized our newest community open space project, Bonner Hill.
Overlooking the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers, “B Hill” as it is known to many locals is an important part of the Bonner community. Over the last century, Bonner has transitioned from a resource extraction economy to one based on natural resource conservation and a thriving industrial center. Yet, the community’s connection to B Hill has endured, and is part of what makes it so special.
“Our goal was to continue current and traditional uses of B Hill, and to maintain public access and the natural beauty of the mountain,” says new landowners Steve Nelson, Mike Boehme and Mike Heisey, co-owners of Bonner Property Development, LLC, the company that owns and manages the vibrant Bonner Mill industrial site just across Highway 200. “B Hill is a recreation area for the entire community.”
Located right above its playground, B Hill provides a natural classroom for Bonner Elementary School. The forest and trails provide a place for hands-on science, nature journaling, place-based history lessons, as well as sports training. The letter “B” that helps give the hill its name was built in 1943 by Bonner Elementary students, and is regularly repainted by students today.
“The hill gets a lot of use by our school,” says Bonner Elementary School Superintendent Jim Howard. “It’s a great resource for getting kids outside, and the proximity to the school is hard to beat. It’s such a resource for our teachers.”
B Hill is also a popular place for locals to enjoy hiking, dog walking, sledding, time spent outdoors with their families, and scenic views of the surrounding valleys. In another nod to community values, an above ground water tank on the property provides critical infrastructure as an emergency firefighting water source for Bonner Mill, Bonner Elementary School, and a portion of the town of Milltown.
For the last 13 years, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has managed B Hill in the hopes of transferring it to a local conservation-minded owner. Prior to TNC ownership, the hill had long been managed for timber production going all the way back to ownership by Anaconda Copper.
The conservation project involved TNC selling the 104-acre property to Bonner Property Development. Immediately prior to the sale, TNC placed a conservation and public access easement on the property that is held by Five Valleys. This public access easement represents a new and exciting extension of Five Valleys’ community open space work. Through this easement, Five Valleys will ensure permanent public access and stewardship in partnership with Bonner Property Development.
“We were committed to honoring the property’s community values when we became the temporary stewards of B Hill,” says Chris Bryant, Western Montana Land Protection Director for TNC. “We were glad to find a landowner in Bonner Property Development who was so willing to keep B Hill a part of the community, and to be working with Five Valleys to ensure perpetual stewardship.”
For wildlife, B Hill provides important habitat connectivity between the Blackfoot and Clark Fork/Missoula Valleys. The connectivity is enhanced through its proximity to other conservation lands, including nearby Milltown State Park. The hill is heavily forested with Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir intermixed with chokecherry, snowberry, wood’s rose, and many other shrubs, grasses and forbs. This provides habitat for wildlife such as deer, elk, black bear, big horn sheep, and a variety of resident and migratory birds. The Montana Natural Heritage Program has documented seventeen Species of Concern in the area around the property, including Canada Lynx, Clark’s Nutcracker, and Long-eared Myotis.
“We’re thrilled to be able to support a conservation effort of this breadth," says Whitney Schwab, Executive Director of Five Valleys Land Trust. “We are excited to be a part of the Bonner community for years to come.”
Thanks to TNC’s patience and Bonner Property Development’s vision B Hill is now owned by members of Bonner community itself. Five Valleys is honored to help ensure that B Hill remains the vibrant community open space that it is for generations to come.
Photos by Five Valleys staff