The iconic ‘M’ Trail at the University of Montana will be undergoing a major makeover in the next two years, but specifically the steps at the start of the trail will be closed while new steps are constructed.

UM Natural Areas manager Marilyn Marler described the changes coming to the world-famous trail.

“There’s a set of stairs that are about 25 years old and they’ve had to accommodate about a thousand people a day, so we are replacing those wooded stairs with concrete stairs,” said Marler. “To make it so the volunteer work group can get that done, we have to reroute people on a very minor detour for about two weeks, but it will be delightful, because the detour is going to go right through the peony garden, which is in full bloom right now.”

Marler described some of the changes that must be made to keep the ‘M’ trail safe for the years to come.

“We have to build some retaining structures and install some new steps at the switchbacks and install some water bars, so those are in the category of ongoing maintenance,” she said. “That should make it easier for people to climb certain parts and hopefully slow down the erosion that is wrecking the trail in slow motion.”

Marler said the reason the trail exists, the ‘M’ itself, also needs some TLC.

“The other thing is that the ‘M’ itself is experiencing some pretty large scale erosion and we need to add some new retaining walls so that the ‘M’ doesn’t slide off the mountain,” she said. “We’ll do that in such a way that will accommodate more seating and some stairs to kind of hold the soil in place. We still want it to look real and natural, like the ‘M’ that we know and love, with just a little less erosion.”

Marler said the total fundraising goal for the two-year project was $100,000, and thanks to REI and, Run Wild Missoula and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, they now have only $50,000 left to be raised. People can make a donation of any size to M Trail dot org. In addition, organizers have installed a secure receptacle at the base of the ‘M’ Trail where donations can be placed.

(photo by Todd Goodrich)

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