Rattlesnake Greenway

Photo by Cathrine Walters

On March 1, 1992, the citizens of Missoula celebrated the transfer of 411 acres of land in the Rattlesnake Valley from the Montana Power Company to the City of Missoula. It was the culmination of a long-­held dream for the community, including the board and staff of the Five Valleys, then a fledgling local land trust.

It was called the Rattlesnake Greenway project, and today, that property is cherished and enjoyed by hundreds in the community who use its many trails for hiking, biking, bird-watching, family outings, and commuting every single day of the year.

The trails system that has been developed there links Missoula’s wonderful riverfront park and trail system with trails leading into the Rattlesnake National Recreation area and the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area beyond, as well as to homes and schools throughout the Rattlesnake Valley.

The purchase of the Rattlesnake Greenway from Sunshine Development, a real estate subsidiary of Montana Power Company became the first major public acquisition facilitated by the organization after the Five Valleys River Parks Association was transformed into a land trust in 1989. And, it provided a template for a continuing series of cooperative efforts between Five Valleys, the City of Missoula, Missoula County, and many government agencies and community organizations, all designed to secure our key recreational and conservation lands in public ownership.

Five Valleys Land Trust secured an option to purchase the land from Montana Power and launched an effort with the City of Missoula to secure a Congressional allocation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to purchase the property. The LWCF is a federal fund created to use some of the proceeds from offshore oil leases to achieve valuable public conservation objectives in communities across the country. It has become an important source of funding for the acquisition and protection of important recreational lands, stream corridors, scenic open space and wildlife habitat.

In a complicated transaction overseen by Five Valleys board member and legal advisor Bob Knight, the City of Missoula agreed to move ahead with partial purchase of the land even before any federal allocation was guaranteed. Public support from the community and others grew as the project became widely known. With the help of Senator Baucus and the rest of the Montana delegation, Congress finally approved an appropriation of $633,000 to purchase the property in late 1991. The deal was closed on March 1, 1992 and the Rattlesnake Greenway has been a local treasure ever since.

That project set the tone for Five Valleys as a community land trust tasked with working with private landowners to achieve important conservation and working with the community at large to identify public needs.

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