Many of you have asked and PPLT has answered! Here are some responses to frequently asked questions regarding the Prickly Pear Creek Greenway project.
Prickly Pear Land Trust has been involved with the plans for the former ASARCO smelter site in East Helena since 2010. Recently, the Governor signed the paperwork that solidified PPLT’s partnership with other leaders of this project. We are one step closer to making the Prickly Pear Creek Greenway a reality! Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
How did PPLT get involved with East Helena?
About 10 years ago, our past executive director, Andy Baur, along with Andrea Silverman, our lands coordinator, began attending meetings in East Helena to see what future uses the community wanted for the lands formerly owned by ASARCO. In addition to new commercial and residential development, the citizens of East Helena were very enthusiastic in their support for open spaces and trails. PPLT acquired funding from the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) in 2015 to complete a feasibility study to map and outline possibilities for the Prickly Pear Creek Greenway concept, and now is working with partners to complete the overall project.
When will PPLT break ground on the new trail?
Good question! There is quite a bit of background work that needs to be done before we can start actual trail building, including design work, negotiating trail easements with private landowners, and working with Montana Rail Link to navigate the railroad tracks that run throughout the area. We may be able to start some work in late 2020, but otherwise we anticipate trail work in 2021 and beyond.
How/where will the trail connect to East Helena and Montana City?
We’re looking to connect up existing trails in and between Montana City and East Helena, so this means creating a link from the Montana City school to the Sunderland Trail (located on Ash Grove Cement Company’s property), and then north through private lands to the property PPLT hopes to acquire south and east of the slag pile. There will be routes designated within the city of East Helena on the north side of Highway 12, and then links to Kennedy Park and further north to another parcel that will hopefully be conveyed to PPLT soon, with new trails located here as well. The paved trail along Highway 12 will intersect the Greenway too for non-motorized travel options to Helena and the west side.
What will the trail system look like? How many miles?
The trails and designated routes in East Helena will be as accessible as possible for users of all abilities, while the section heading south through private lands to connect with the Sunderland Trail will be more like the singletrack trails that people see in the South Hills.
Will the trails be universally accessible for all?
PPLT will build the trails as close to federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards as possible based on available funding and the gradient of the land in each section.
What will PPLT do with the slag pile?
PPLT does not have any say in what happens to the slag pile—that is under the jurisdiction of the EPA. But the agency does have plans to recontour the slag pile and cover it with clean soil and new vegetation in the next few years.
What money is PPLT receiving? What can that funding be used for? Is that enough?
A portion of the East Helena Restoration Funds that the NRDP received as part of the bankruptcy settlement with ASARCO are allocated for the Prickly Pear Creek Greenway project. These funds can be used for design work and construction of the trail. PPLT will also receive funds from the Montana Environmental Trust Group (METG) that will be used for maintenance on the land that PPLT hopes to acquire shortly in East Helena. PPLT will continue to need annual operations support as well as funding for additional capital projects.
Will work on the Greenway take away focus from other PPLT projects like the South Hills and private land conservation?
Absolutely not! The Greenway project will be in addition to our ongoing work in the South Hills, private land conservation and other opportunities. This is why it is so important that we continue to receive strong support for PPLT’s annual operations from our members and supporters.
Will parts of the land be used to build a new neighborhood?
No, but new residential development is anticipated adjacent to some parts of the Greenway.
What is PPLT most excited about with this project?
There will be four schools in East Helena within walking distance of the Greenway (Radley Elementary, Prickly Pear Elementary, East Valley Middle School, and East Helena High), as well as the Montana City School, so we are very excited about the educational opportunities for these schools and getting kids outdoors!
Another source of excitement is the chance to increase the walkability of the communities along the Greenway: creating safe and fun routes for everyone to walk to school, work, shopping, and recreational opportunities will be a game changer for East Helena and Montana City, as well as their visitors!
The smelter helped define East Helena and it was a major influence for more than 100 years. PPLT looks forward to working with the community to honor the heritage of the ASARCO smelter and all those who worked there, and helping to usher in a new economic prosperity from the Greenway and its ripple effects. Trail systems have been proven time and again in towns and cities across the country to be a positive economic driver. As East Helena grows into the next decade, we hope the Greenway will bring new businesses and families to live in this wonderful place.
How does this fit in with other City of East Helena plans?
We are already working with the Superintendent of Schools in East Helena to ensure that kids have a safe routes walking to and from school. Wherever possible we will partner with other new developments as well to ensure access to parks, trails, and the creek.
How can community members support this project right now?
Join PPLT! Becoming a member allows you to stay informed about our progress, and to learn where you can volunteer. You can also support PPLT financially. We rely on members and individual donations to do this work. Project-specific grants do not cover our day-to-day operations and we thank you for your interest in the project and your consideration of support!