The city of Missoula owns 3,600 acres of open space, but until recently most of that land has been unmanaged. And while certain parcels have received the city’s attention—Mount Jumbo, for instance—there’s been no direction as to how all of the open space should be managed.
On Monday, that began to change. The Parks and Recreation Department hired a consultant to draft a master plan for managing Missoula’s open space. Conservation Lands Manager Morgan Valliant confirmed the department’s decision to make the hire, but declined to name the local firm until negotiations are complete. He says Parks and Rec allocated $35,000 for the plan.
A 20-person citizen advisory group will act as a sounding board as the consultants draft the plan, according to Valliant. The department is currently finalizing the application process and will begin advertising for spots next month.
“We try to get a pretty diverse group of people,” Valliant says of the effort to find participants. “We try to get folks across the valley, folks that are avid recreators, folks that aren’t avid recreators. We want to get a nice slice of Missoula.”
City Council began purchasing open space in 1995. At that time, the council made a conscious decision to focus on acquisition rather than worry about management because of mounting pressure to develop those lands, says Councilmember Marilyn Marler.
In 1999, Marler says local botanist John Pierce convinced City Council to allocate $5,000 for a vegetation inventory of Mt. Jumbo. The program grew from there and in 2003 the city hired a full-time lands manager and allocated more budget money.
Before City Council decided to allocate money, management wasn’t a problem because there was almost no money to fund it.
“It was a drop in the bucket, like $5 an acre,” Valliant says. “Now we’re up to $70, which still isn’t a lot, but we don’t really have a comprehensive plan.”
Valliant hopes the consultant’s master plan will be ready for council approval by September.