Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The City of Missoula has notched its side of an agreement to manage Marshall Mountain over the next year before transferring the park’s operation and care over to Missoula County.

On a 10-2 vote, members of the City Council on Wednesday approved the interlocal agreement overseeing Marshal Mountain Park, which is expected to come under public ownership in the coming weeks.

“The actual ownership of Marshall Mountain will fall under Missoula County, as well as the actual operations and management,” said city parks director Donna Gaukler. “I think it’s a positive thing for the county in building out their programs serving residents across the county, as well as city residents, who are also residents of the county.”

The city and county in early October both approved spending $1 million each from their share of the open-space bond to purchase 480 acres on Marshall Mountain. The property represents three separate but adjoining parcels.

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Other funding sources are also in play and Missoula County is expected to close on the property early next year. Once it does, the mountain will become public property.

“It will compose the Marshall Mountain all-season, all-weather, all-access, all-activity park,” said Gaukler. “We’re excited about that acquisition. I strongly believe it’s one of those legacy building projects, and it definitely provides some relief for a growing and active population.”

Critics of acquisition have questioned the long-term costs of staffing, maintaining and managing the mountain. The county is expected to hire a qualified park supervisor to manage recreation and permitting, and annual operational costs have been estimated at around $400,000 a year.

But supporters said permits and other events will help offset most of those costs, and public ownership of the mountain park will provide long-term benefits to the larger community.

“Those learn-to programs are really important when it comes to building knowledge, support and understanding of what it means to take care of our place,” Gauckler said. “This plays a unique role we don’t have anywhere else in the city.”

Once the county takes over the mountain, it may also find partners in the nonprofit community to help address maintenance issues. Mountain Bike Missoula has already pledged its support.

“We are uniquely positioned as a nonprofit to help do trail maintenance and trail building in Missoula,” said John Stegmaier, director of Mountain Bike Missoula. “We’ve had a presence at Marshall for four or five years now. We’re a committed partner. The site is very important to our organization.”

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