Five Valleys Land Trust (Five Valleys) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) are proud to announce that Five Valleys’ application on behalf of the Mount Dean Stone Community Forest was awarded $600,000 in funding through the USFS’ competitive Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program.
“This is project has been in the works for several years. We’re really excited to be able to share this news with the public,” says Five Valleys’ Associate Director, Ben Horan. “This has been a community effort, with strong partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Mount Dean Stone Committee, and essential support from Run Wild Missoula, Big Sky Brewing Company, OnX Maps, and other conservation funding opportunities. It is truly a broad community effort.”
The proposal will create a 1,040-acre community forest on the southeast side of Mount Dean Stone on lands currently owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The USFS’ Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program provides a unique opportunity for communities to acquire and conserve valuable forest land for direct public benefit, including recreational access, forest-based learning opportunities, economic benefits and protection of vital wildlife habitat.
“The Forest Service would like to congratulate Five Valleys Land Trust on their successful grant application for the Mount Dean Stone Community Forest project,” says Region 1 Regional Forester Leanne Marten. “This project will provide many benefits for the community of Missoula and we look forward to working together on this partnership.”
The larger Mount Dean Stone project has made progress through generous community support and the collaboration of over 20 partnering organizations and businesses that make up the Mount Dean Stone Committee. Led by Five Valleys, the Committee is helping to guide the Mount Dean Stone project, which aims to serve as the future model of conservation to sustainably maintain public access to the landscape.
Since 2016, Five Valleys has worked with over a dozen Mount Dean Stone landowners to protect and transfer 580 acres on the north face of Mount Dean Stone into the City of Missoula’s conservation lands inventory. This includes the popular Barmeyer, Sousa, and Mount Dean Stone Preserve Trails. The Mount Dean Stone Community Forest represents the next phase in establishing a community outcome for the landscape, where historic public access has been allowed through the leadership of TNC.
“Community use of Mount Dean Stone for hiking and enjoying nature has been possible for decades through the generous open lands policies of different timber companies,” says Horan. “That access could have been lost, but because of the visionary work of The Nature Conservancy and the support of the USFS, Missoulians now have the opportunity to envision a public outcome for the mountain.”
The Mount Dean Stone Community Forest will be the home of the newly opened House of Sky Trail, which runs along the Mount Dean Stone ridgeline from where it connects to the Mount Dean Stone Preserve Trail beneath the summit, to Skyline Ridge in the West Fork of Deer Creek. The House of Sky Trail offers a new path for the growing Missoula community to get outside and enjoy nature while reducing pressure on existing open lands by connecting Miller Creek, City of Missoula Conservation Lands, and the Pattee Canyon National Recreation Area. The 4.6-mile route provides incredible views of the surrounding valleys and a backcountry feel just minutes from downtown Missoula.
“This grant award brings community members one step closer to permanent, legal, public access to a special landscape,” says Five Valleys’ Executive Director Whitney Schwab. “There is still work to be done to fund acquisition of the entire 2,490-acre property, but this grant provides a big step in ensuring that the community will be able to enjoy more than 1,000 acres along the southern horizon in perpetuity.”
Photos by Five Valleys staff