Sometimes community conservation doesn’t just involve protecting what is already there. In the case of Marshall Mountain, it has involved a reimagining of what a recreational area can be, and how community members can help shape that vision.
Marshall Mountain, located just a few miles northeast of Missoula, has long been an outdoor playground. Owner Tollef Olsen first installed a primitive rope tow in 1937, and generations of Missoulians grew up learning to ski at the family friendly mountain. By 2002, a changing climate that brought increasingly unreliable snowfall, as well as other challenges, forced the owners to close Marshall Ski Area and put the property up for sale. In the years since, efforts to re-establish winter recreational use have been unsuccessful. Meanwhile, other recreational users discovered the old slopes—in particular, the mountain biking community.
In 2015, The Nature Conservancy graciously donated 160 acres between the Marshall base area and the summit of Marshall Mountain to Five Valleys, knowing that Five Valleys would ensure that western Montanans could continue to enjoy all that the mountain has to offer. This parcel is a green bowl of sunny ridges and shadowed draws, blanketed in Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines interspersed with grassy meadows. The property lies adjacent to USFS Lolo National Forest lands.
In 2016, Five Valleys began a partnership with MTB Missoula (MTB), Missoula’s local mountain biking nonprofit, and MTB and their army of eager volunteers soon got to work. With Five Valleys’ guidance and with leadership from Big Sky Brewing Company and the support of many partners, MTB has built a network of exceptional mountain biking trails for all ages and abilities.
There are now six miles of multi-use and bike-specific trails at Marshall, which are helping to reduce user pressure on nearby recreational areas and provide world-class experiences to schoolchildren and competitive riders alike.
Throughout the trail building process, MTB has labored to ensure that the mountain’s new trails minimize impacts to the land and are built with an eye towards future trail opportunities. MTB’s efforts include the area’s first public access bike-only downhill trail, “Bjorn Again,” and the intermediate flow trail “Hello Kitty” that provides fun for a wide range of skill levels.
In June 2021, Izzy Dog LLC purchased the 156-acre Marshall Mountain base area, which includes the mountain’s recognizable red-roofed ski lodge, parking area, and other facilities from longtime community-minded owners, the Doering family. In August 2021, Izzy Dog LLC renamed the site Marshall Mountain Park, leased it to the City of Missoula, and opened it to self-initiated, day-use recreation. In addition to public access, the lease agreement ensures that partnering organizations can continue to utilize the mountain for programming, events, and general recreation. Programs such as MTB and Missoula Parks and Recreation’s Zootown Derailleur’s program brings hundreds of school children to Marshall each year to hone their skills.
The mountain isn’t only for mountain biking, however. Many of the same trails also provide a place for quiet enjoyment of nature and scenic views of the mountains and valleys surrounding Missoula. The mountain has long been a popular access point for backcountry skiers.
Five Valleys looks forward to working with our partners and our community to help ensure that current and future generations can continue to enjoy all that Marshall Mountain has to offer.
Header photo by Tom Robertson
Explore 50 years of the community effort that made Five Valleys Land Trust possible through our immersive ArcGIS Story Map.
Five Valleys has always done our best work when we look forward not to just next year, but the next decade.
Learn more about public access at Marshall Mountain Park and join us, the City of Missoula, and the landowners for a celebration on September 12th.