From its source deep in the Elkhorn Mountains, Prickly Pear Creek meanders northward through Montana City and East Helena and past Helena’s eastern edge before joining Tenmile Creek out in the Helena Valley. Though the Prickly Pear faced more than a century of degradation, pollution and rerouting, with a little help, the health of the waterway is returning. The communities along Prickly Pear Creek are also healing from years of pollution and economic disruption. The idea behind the Prickly Pear Creek Greenway is that the creation of a recreational corridor in and between these communities will serve to connect residents to their local environment, history, and to each other. Making these connections is an important step toward rebuilding and will aid in the longer-term recovery.
Prickly Pear Land Trust is committed to this idea. Since 2010, we have been working with the community of East Helena and federal, state, and local authorities to plan this recreational trail system and maximize its benefits and connections for East Helena. The proposed trail would make a large loop around East Helena, creating pedestrian and bike-safe connections between town and Prickly Pear Creek, before heading upstream and connecting to Montana City’s community trails.
Prickly Pear Creek is home to brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout populations eager to be fished, while the watershed itself provides great habitat for many different species of wildlife, ranging from beavers to mule deer to songbirds. For decades now, places where the public can access the creek have been practically non-existent, but this could all change with the creation of the Greenway. The majority of the proposed trail will be made wheelchair accessible, providing users of all ages and abilities a beautiful route away from busy highways. The Greenway would also provide a unique opportunity for residents, visitors, and students to learn about the area’s history, both human and natural. East Helena residents will have the ability to travel to school, work or shopping on foot or by bicycle, as well as new recreational areas for picnics and family outings, which will also draw in new visitors and businesses.
In 2015, Prickly Pear Land Trust was granted funding from the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) Early Restoration Fund to initiate a planning and visioning process for the proposed trail corridor. The resulting feasibility study is a reflection of significant public outreach with area stakeholders, private developers, and the public, and it found that not only was the Greenway technically and logistically feasible, but it was poised to provide multiple benefits for the three communities it would link: East Helena, Montana City, and Helena.
PPLT is currently working with federal, state, and local agencies and organizations to secure funding not only for the construction of the trail system, but for its long-term maintenance and management. Once funding is in place and all partners agree to the plan, PPLT will begin working to secure key properties and rights of way, and begin trail and amenity development.
The ASARCO Smelter was in operation from 1888 until 2001, and was the economic lifeblood of East Helena during that time. The many years of production led to contamination issues in the air, groundwater, surface waters, and soils in the area from heavy metals and other hazardous substances, however. Part of the bankruptcy settlement with ASARCO dedicated funds to remove contamination from the former plant site and surrounding area, with cleanup under the Superfund program beginning in 2010. Since then, much of the property has also been reclaimed and is returning to a more natural state with new vegetation growing along the stream and new wetlands where bare soils used to be.
To read the full text of the East Helena Smelter Draft Restoration Plan, CLICK HERE.
We need your voice. Help East Helena with a community trail!
The State of Montana Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) has released a draft Restoration Plan for East Helena, and the preferred alternative is carefully crafted to address water infrastructure needs for East Helena and the need to reclaim critical public space. The plan would provide the critical funding PPLT needs to begin construction on the proposed Prickly Pear Creek Greenway, a trail corridor from Montana City to East Helena.
So if you’d like to help make the Prickly Pear Creek Greenway a reality, please tell the NRDP that you support the preferred alternative, which would provide PPLT with $3.2 million from the $5.9 million East Helena NRD Settlement Restoration Fund. Public comments are being accepted until 5:00pm on Monday, February 11th and can be submitted via email to: [email protected] with “East Helena Restoration Plan” in the subject line.
Thank you for helping Prickly Pear Land Trust continue connecting land and people.