Missoula County eyes Travelers' Rest expansion 

Missoula County Commissioners are evaluating a proposal to spend up to $300,000 of Open Space Bond money to purchase 24 acres of wildlife habitat and riparian area along Lolo Creek 12 miles south of Missoula.

"The site is just awesome," says Missoula County Commissioner Michele Landquist.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks opened Traveler's Rest State Park 10 years ago. A partnership between the state agency and the nonprofit Travelers' Rest Preservation and Heritage Association helped grow the park from 15 acres to 50. If the Missoula County Commissioners approve using Missoula's voter-approved Open Space Bond to help pay for the new land acquisition, the park just south of Lolo will grow again.

Travelers' Rest is a National Historic Landmark that sits atop a centuries-old Native American campsite that archeologists say Meriwether Lewis and William Clark used during their early-19th-century expedition. The property is home to American mink, river otter, muskrats, black bears, mule deer and six species of woodpecker. "It's a wonderful section of riparian area," says Travelers' Rest State Park Manager Loren Flynn. "Incredible wildlife habitat, [and] fisheries habitat as well."

The county and the Heritage Association are evaluating whether to pool their resources with state conservation funds to purchase, at a discount, three parcels that lie adjacent to the existing park, currently owned by the Holt family. The parcels have yet to be appraised and include a 10-acre property that contains a significant amount of riparian habitat and 900 feet of Lolo Creek frontage. A second parcel now being leased by the park would be acquired by the state. That property now houses a museum and visitor center, along with park offices. If the transaction is approved, the Holt family plans to donate the museum and its contents, including an extensive Native American bead collection.

The third parcel lies at an optimal location to connect a trail that runs north and south along Highway 93 to one that runs east to west along Highway 12, says Sarah Richey, who's been helping to facilitate the deal on behalf of the county.

"What the acquisition would do is allow Travelers' Rest State Park to expand their trail system and allow public access there along the creek," Richey says.

Commissioners are tentatively scheduled to vote on the proposal at the end of March.

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