Missoula's River Parks

Photo by FVLT Staff

As early as 1971, some Missoula residents were becoming concerned about the pace of residential and commercial development on lands that had high conservation, scenic, and recreational values, particularly along river and stream corridors in and around the community. Out of this shared concern the Five Valleys River Park Association was created in 1972.

The organization created a mission statement that has proved to be timely and enduring:

“The river park system contemplated will take many years to develop, perhaps becoming a continuing project capable of linking generations in gracious civic enterprise.”

And that is exactly what has happened.

The City of Missoula provided the first office space in the basement of City Hall, but it was soon moved to the downtown law offices of Bob Knight, one of the founding board members. The first efforts were focused on raising awareness of the need for planning for the river corridors through town.  Five Valleys began to focus on developing a system of parks and open spaces along the Clark Fork and Bitterroot Rivers, along with a system of trails to link those public spaces. Protection of the important wildlife habitat, stream bank vegetation, and restoring areas along the rivers that had been disturbed for industrial and commercial purposes was also a priority.

Starting with a $100 grant from the America the Beautiful Fund, the organization set to work. In the years that followed, Five Valleys worked to facilitate a number of public land purchases and donations that have blossomed into Missoula’s riverfront corridor. Some of those early projects include:

  • Acquisition and development of Jacobs Island Park
  • Purchase of Kelly Island
  • Acquisition of Pineview Park in the Rattlesnake Valley
  • Creation of the Bugbee Preserve and Tom Green Park in the Rattlesnake Valley
  • Accepting donations of land along the Clark Fork River in Hellgate Canyon, near Clinton, and downstream near Orchard Homes and Big Flat for eventual transfer into public ownership

By 1980, it was evident that more financial resources were a key to protecting Missoula’s natural legacy and Five Valleys provided the impetus for the passage of Montana’s first public open space bond. Proceeds from the $500,000 open space bond were used to purchase the site of John Toole Park and portions of the Kim Williams Trail adjacent to the Clark Fork River, 125 acres on the slopes of Mount Jumbo above the lower Rattlesnake Valley, and the area’s first conservation easement on the slope of Mount Sentinel.

In the late 1980s, it became apparent that the organization needed to serve a larger area with more effective tools to adequately deal with the challenges of rapidly increasing residential growth. With the support and encouragement of the Missoula County Commissioners Five Valleys River Park Association was reorganized to become Five Valleys Land Trust, Montana’s first community land trust.

The rest is history... a history that continues "linking generations in gracious civic enterprise."

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