The power of conservation partnerships became evident in 2014 as 386 acres of important wildlife habitat and recreational lands in York Gulch are now protected and incorporated into the surrounding Helena National Forest lands. About two miles east of the community of York, and less than 20 miles from Helena, lies the small canyon known as York Gulch. This beautiful little valley has steep, timbered walls that lead up to Hedges Mountain, and the views just get better the higher you go. The property is accessed from Jimtown Road, and Forest Roads #4136 A1, A2, A3 and A4 to Hedges Mountain and other key trails and roads. With this acquisition, the public now has legal access to key public lands for hunting, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and other recreation.
The newest addition to the Helena National Forest consists of two former inholdings: the 286-acre parcel owned by Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation (formerly known as the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Foundation), and the 100 acres formerly owned by Mrs. Betty Tiddy of Helena. The Tiddy property also provided key access to the Foundation’s property and adjacent National Forest System land. Betty Tiddy wanted to do something special for the people of Montana by selling the property to PPLT for conveyance to the Forest Service. Aside from wonderful recreational opportunities, the area functions as an important corridor for wildlife movement as area residents and agency personnel have reported sightings of everything from black bears, mule deer, elk, wild turkeys, mountain lions, bobcats, lynx, wolverine, and pine marten, to wolves and even grizzly bears.
Appraised at a combined total of almost $1 million, the two properties were comprised of 19 contiguous mining claims many of which saw extensive mining activity beginning in the mid-1800s. However, a substantial clean-up effort took place in 2009 through Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and the Lewis & Clark Conservation District. Hazardous mining waste was removed from the site, the locations of former mines were reclaimed, and mining adits were filled. All work was done to the standards of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and prior to the cleanup, a series of studies were conducted to determine if the mining adits – which were to be closed by the cleanup efforts – were home to various bats and other species in the area. The Foundation facilitated these studies with the cooperation of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Had these 19 mining claims been sold individually and developed, the impact to this narrow, confined drainage that is highly susceptible to wildfire would have been significant.
There were many partners and funders that played an essential role in the successful completion of this project. Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation was key in assembling the partnerships that helped bring this property to the public. Prickly Pear Land Trust played a key part in assembling the funding needed to secure the property. A perennial and generous funder of key public access projects, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust contributed $234,300 to the project for its important access and wildlife components. A critical piece of funding came from the Lewis and Clark County Open Space Bond in the amount of $205,000 after the County Commission voted unanimously to support the project. Federal funding of $302,700 came from the U.S. Forest Service through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And seeing the importance to public access and big game habitat, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Mule Deer Foundation each contributed $25,000 to this acquisition. Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation donated $130,000 of the value of the property to help ensure its successful transfer. The Conservation Fund, a national conservation organization, provided critical financing to ensure the Betty Tiddy property could be conserved in a timely manner.
PPLT and Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation along with their partners, the Helena National Forest, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Lewis and Clark County Open Space Bond, Montana Mule Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, are proud to have assured public access to these formerly private parcels, to have enhanced options for public access and recreation, and to allow for better management on the ground through consolidated ownership. To kick that off, a noxious weed control project will begin in the spring of 2015, funded through a grant from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation with additional contributions from the U.S. Forest Service, PPLT, and Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Foundation.