From news trails to forestry and fisheries work, to plans for the future, the Mount Dean Stone project continues to move the conservation, recreation, and future open space needs of Missoula forward.
In June, the City of Missoula, Five Valleys, and the Mount Dean Stone Committee officially opened the Mount Dean Stone Preserve Trail. The 5-mile Preserve Trail runs through the 350-acre Mount Dean Stone Preserve corridor, which Five Valleys transferred into City of Missoula ownership in late 2020. The trail, previously nicknamed the High, Wide, and Handsome Trail, connects the existing Barmeyer and Sousa trails with the Mount Dean Stone ridgeline where the trail encircles the summit. Built at an accessible 8% grade, the Preserve Trail is a scenic, connected, and easygoing outing for visitors of many ages and interests.
Mount Dean Stone provides important wildlife habitat to many species, but especially to the Northern Sapphire elk herd that uses the mountain as winter and calving habitat. To better support elk needs, the upper portions of the Preserve Trail are under a seasonal winter dog closure. Dogs are not allowed above the Woodsy property (directly above the South Hills Spur) from December 1 – May 15 each year. Signs are posted where this closure area begins.
The Preserve Trail can be accessed via the Barmeyer Trailhead in Pattee Canyon or the Sousa Trailhead in the Stone Mountain neighborhood. Visitors without dogs can access the trail year-round; though, the Preserve Trail’s elevation may make winter access difficult.
To learn more about the Preserve Trail and download maps, visit EngageMissoula.com
Over the last year Five Valleys Land Trust worked with the recreation and natural resource experts on the Mount Dean Stone Committee to identify a new trail corridor. The House of Sky Trail will connect with the Preserve Trail below the Mount Dean Stone summit, and runs east along the ridge to a new access point at Skyline Ridge, near the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area.
This summer Mount Dean Stone Committee member MTB Missoula, along with a legion of eager volunteers and a Montana Conservation Corps crew, began construction on this new 4.6-mile community resource. This effort included 45 volunteers and MCC members who came out for National Public Lands Day to dig a switchback section of the trail on the east side of Mitten Mountain. Thank you, volunteers!
Once complete, the House of Sky Trail will, for the first time, create a united trails network across the Mount Dean Stone landscape by connecting the northern side of the mountain with a 2,500-acre parcel on the south side of Mount Dean Stone, currently managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). This connectivity will be created by uniting five trailheads – the Barmeyer and Sousa Trailheads on the northern side of the mountain, the Inez Creek and Little Park Creek Trailheads on the southern side of the mountain, and the Skyline Ridge Trailhead to the east above the West Fork of Deer Creek – through a network of over 20 miles of trail.
Currently, the House of Sky Trail is not open to public access. In order to protect habitat for the Northern Sapphire elk herd across the Mount Dean Stone landscape, the entire House of Sky Trail will be under a winter closure from December 1 – May 15 each year. This closure will affect all forms of recreation in order to reduce stress on wildlife during the winter when forage is scarce and females are pregnant.
Prior to the public opening of House of Sky, final connections must be built and trailhead infrastructure and signage must be installed. Please help us protect our wildlife and create the best trail experience possible by respecting seasonal and construction closures. The Mount Dean Stone Committee partners eagerly anticipate welcoming the public to the House of Sky Trail in spring or summer 2022.
Much of the Mount Dean Stone project’s recent efforts have been focused on the northern side of the mountain, including open space acquisitions, trail building, and forestry work visible from Missoula. As the project progresses in meeting its goals, the Mount Dean Stone Committee’s focus is moving to “Mount Dean Stone South,” above Miller Creek.
Mount Dean Stone South is comprised of a 2,500-acre parcel owned and managed by TNC, a parcel along the ridgeline owned by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, as well as a few private inholdings. The TNC parcel is home to the Inez Creek and Little Park Creek Trailheads. Over the summer, Mount Dean Stone Committee members worked to improve wildlife habitat, improve forest health, and plan for the future of Mount Dean Stone.
The Clark Fork Coalition, in collaboration with TNC and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (Montana FWP), recently finished installing a beneficial barrier in Little Park Creek. Little Park Creek is home to a 99.9% genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout population - a rare thing in the modern West. The barrier project was designed to protect this rare, native westslope cutthroat population from hybridization with nonnative species, as well as stopping nonnative fish species from invading into Little Park Creek. The barrier will allow for fish migration downstream, but not upstream, protecting the native fish population and helping re-establish healthy fish populations downstream.
An armored ford was installed above the barrier to allow for emergency access and management. While the ford will be less than an inch deep most of the year, a rock footpath was installed to allow crossing during higher flows.
Over the next 2-3 years, Clark Fork Coalition in partnership with TNC, Montana FWP, and the Mount Dean Stone Committee will be exploring other fisheries restoration projects across Mount Dean Stone South to support larger fish habitat connectivity and protection of pure populations.
For the last few years, TNC and Five Valleys have worked with the University of Montana W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation to provide a living classroom for forestry students. Students have developed forest health prescriptions for the Bear Run Creek neighborhood in Upper Miller Creek. Recently, Five Valleys and TNC secured Natural Resources Conservation Service funding to complete 30 acres of forest thinning in Bear Run Creek, using the student prescriptions. That work will get underway in spring 2022, helping to promote long-term forest health and reduce the threat of wildfire for the private residences in Bear Run Creek and surrounding area.
The milestones achieved so far would not have been possible without the generosity and vision of many families and landowners, the City of Missoula, the Mount Dean Stone Committee partners, and our incredible community that made the project possible.
As the Mount Dean Stone project continues to evolve and progress, Five Valleys, TNC, and other Mount Dean Stone Committee members are exploring options and funding sources in order to create the best possible community open space complex. As our community continues to grow, ensuring both humans and wildlife can continue to share and enjoy Mount Dean Stone is a top priority. Stay tuned!
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Header photo of the southern view from the House of Sky Trail by Five Valleys staff