Missoula County will take the lead position in efforts to complete the purchase of Marshall Mountain, putting the formal ski area in public ownership and ending several years of doubt over the site's future.

The move is the latest development in a developing move to save the ski hill and all the trails around it for future public recreational use.

Two years ago, a local group known as Izzy Dog LLC came together to head off the sale of the area east of Missoula to an out-of-state owner, a move that raised alarm among cross-country skiers and mountain bikers alike. Part of that arrangement was that it would be held privately, but open to the public, with the understanding that the City of Missoula and other agencies would complete a purchase by this summer.

The city and its partners have continued to work on the planning. And today in a joint press conference, county leaders said the city will be taking the lead to finish the purchase.

That will mean raising more money. On Monday, the county explained the value of the site, which includes all three parcels owned by Izzy Dog, the Nature Conservancy, and Five Valleys Land Trust, has climbed from the original $1.9 million to $2.4 million. But county leaders remain confident of securing grants to make up the difference in the next few months.

The county says it will continue to work with the city and the other partners to solve that funding gap.

"We've evolved in that process," explained County Commissioner Josh Slotnick. "The county is going to take a lead role in securing acquisition. To make that happen, we're going to make use of 2018 Open Space Bond funds, state and federal grants, private donations, and the huge generosity of Izzy Dog and the other folks who made this happen."

City of Missoula graphic
City of Missoula graphic

Mayor Jordan Hess was also on hand to describe the City of Missoula’s role in the eventual acquisition of Marshall Mountain Park.

“This has been a goal of the city and the county quite literally for decades to secure public ownership of Marshal Mountain, and to be here today to announce the county's lead role in this process is really exciting for us,” said Mayor Hess. “City Parks and Recreation have been using this site for years. Thousands and thousands of children have come up here for city recreation programs and it has been very fruitful programming through our Parks and Recreation Department.”

Director of the Missoula Parks and Recreation Department, Donna Gauckler described the long process ahead to acquire Marshall Mountain Park.

“We will be going through the entire open space bond funding process,” said Gauckler. “So the Open Space Advisory Committee, the Open Lands committees, they will be going through all of their steps along with level one and level two reviews. Is the project eligible? Well, we haven't found anything that would suggest that it is not. But it's important that we go through the process and give our community an opportunity to speak to that.”

The move will likely be welcomed by user groups. A survey by the city last winter showed the most popular pursuits at the park are mountain biking, backcountry skiing, and hiking/walking. But others like using the property for trail running, viewing wildlife, public events, and making connections to Forest Service trails.

38% of those responding to the survey said they approve of the "community vision" for the site, which includes a mix of uses. 37% said their main interest is in summer recreation, although 21% said they'd like to have access in the winter. 80% said the plans developed so far provided access to the activities they're interested in.

Inside Look at the New TSOS Shelters

The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space new hard-sided shelter facility officially opened on Thursday, January 5. The TSOS is just off West Broadway near the new Trinity affordable housing complex.

More From Montana Talks