At a time when Montanans are using open spaces and trails more than ever, Five Valleys is excited to announce that Missoulians will soon have the opportunity to enjoy the newest trail on Mount Dean Stone. The nicknamed “High, Wide, and Handsome Trail” will offer five miles of trail for community members to connect with nature and each other while improving their physical and mental health.
At the close of 2019, Five Valleys was happy to announce that we had finalized three land deals that would provide a trail corridor around the top of Mount Dean Stone. This achievement marked the culmination of years of listening, negotiations and patience, and stands as a major milestone for the greater Mount Dean Stone project.
The 350-acre Mount Dean Stone Corridor consists of seven properties, including one approved for a 10-lot residential subdivision directly above the Barmeyer Trail and South Hills Spur. Landowners Sarah and Tim Topp, M. Sheila Callaghan and Max Murphy of Ravalli County Broadcasters LLC, and Vertical Bridge, LLC, all worked with Five Valleys to conserve these three properties and move them into Five Valleys ownership at the end of 2019. Five Valleys is immensely grateful to these families and businesses for their generosity, vision and partnership.
Construction of the "High, Wide and Handsome Trail" commenced over the summer. With the help of project partner MTB Missoula and dozens of volunteers, four of the trail's five miles were finished this fall.
Providing a shady respite in a warming world, the trail winds through a forest of western larch, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine to a scenic, subalpine meadow near the top. On a clear day, visitors will be able see up the Blackfoot to the Scapegoat Wilderness, as well as enjoy views of the Missoula Valley, Pattee Canyon, and the Bitterroot.
The trail will connect to the existing Missoula trail network by extending the Barmeyer and Sousa Trails on the South Hills Spur up to and around the Mount Dean Stone summit. Working in partnership, Five Valleys and the City of Missoula led the effort to conserve the Barmeyer and South Hills Spur properties with the help of funds from the 2006 Missoula Open Space Bond. Five Valleys transferred those open space areas into City of Missoula management in 2016.
“The timing of this trail coming on line next summer will disperse pressure placed on other trails,” Five Valleys' Executive Director Whitney Schwab told the Missoula Current. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve witnessed how much people need the land to connect for mental and physical health, and how crowded things have been. It demonstrates the need we have in Missoula.”
The “High, Wide, and Handsome Trail” has been designed at a moderate 8% grade to provide recreational experiences for users with a wide range of abilities, and will be suitable for both pedestrians and bicycles. In coordination with the City of Missoula’s Conservation Lands program, Five Valleys is working to ensure that the trail will meet recreational needs while minimizing impacts on other conservation values, reducing long-term maintenance costs, and aligning with trail infrastructure and management on the South Hills Spur.
Located directly adjacent to and above the City, the Mount Dean Stone Corridor will not only provide a new trail route, but also helps the Missoula community adapt to climate change by eliminating residential development in a high wildfire risk area, reducing wildfire risk to both structures and first responders. In order to promote long-term forest health and reduce the risk of wildfire, Five Valleys completed a timber thinning project on the Corridor last fall.
Where it loops around the Mount Dean Stone summit, the “High, Wide, and Handsome Trail” will connect to the proposed 4.6-mile House of Sky Trail. Five Valleys was awarded a $75,000 Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Recreational Trails Program grant this spring to build the House of Sky Trail. Read more about the House of Sky Trail.
Once complete, the House of Sky Trail and the “High, Wide and Handsome Trail” will, for the first time, create a united trails network across the Mount Dean Stone landscape. The trails will connect open space areas on the northern side of the mountain with a 2,500-acre parcel on the south side of Mount Dean Stone managed by The Nature Conservancy.
On December 7th, the Missoula City Council voted unanimously to acquire the Mount Dean Stone Corridor, using funds from the 2018 Missoula Open Space Bond and a private estate gift. Five Valleys donated the cost of the trail design and construction. At the close of 2020, the Corridor and trail were transferred into the City of Missoula's ownership. Five Valleys is immensely grateful to the City Council for their support, and the support of the many community members who submitted their feedback, helped us build the trail this fall, and continue to support the project with their donations.
For now, the Corridor and the “High, Wide and Handsome Trail” route is closed to the public while the City prepars the site for public use. Please help us create the best possible experience for the public by respecting this area closure. Five Valleys, working with the City and the other Mount Dean Stone Committee members, hopes to invite the public to enjoy the completed trail in 2021.
The Mount Dean Stone Committee project partners and business supporters:
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Photo of the view from the newly-acquired Mount Dean Stone trail corridor by Five Valleys staff