MOVING MOUNTAINS—20 YEARS ASCENDING AND EXPANDING

In 1999, the creation of what is now Mt. Ascension Natural Park began with PPLT's first land addition to the city of Helena. This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary.

In 1999, the creation of what is now Mt. Ascension Natural Park began with its first land addition to the city of Helena. This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of that first project, which started just three years after PPLT formed. Today, the mountain continues to host healthy stands of Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines, an elk herd in winter, incredible recreational amenities and a mosaic of wildflowers in spring and summer ranging from arrowleaf balsamroot to yellow bells. And while Mt. Ascension in all its beauty is worthy of a twenty-year celebration, this year we honor more of what the park symbolizes—that with foresight, diligence, creativity, and a commitment to community needs, together we can move mountains. 

Entertainment Trail sits on the 35 acre property that was the first of many purchased by PPLT.

To many, the permanent protection of lands in the South Hills is PPLT’s defining achievement. There’s a reason for this. The fledgling land trust largely grew out of the decades-long effort to protect the mountain. The land trust advocated on behalf of its supporters and cut its teeth brokering land deals to add to local public space. PPLT has been at the center of every property added to the South Hills since 1999, including those on Mount Ascension, Wakina Sky, and Mount Helena. Thus far, these efforts have effectively doubled city open space, united it with adjacent National Forest land, and made an already impressive South Hills one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. 

But our work is not done. The South Hills project is less an end goal than it is a training ground for our broader and growing vision. Through the climb up Mt. Ascension, PPLT developed an effective model for conserving lands by using purchases and transfers, conservation easements, and trail easements. And while PPLT sharpened these skills, this community time and again backed our efforts through volunteering, donations, and advocacy. Building on those results and the public trust developed in the process of protecting the South Hills, Prickly Pear Land Trust continues to respond to the growing needs of this part of the state. PPLT is actively working for more open space, recreation for people of all abilities, conservation education, and greater access to the outdoors. And we do this in an enormous, four-county area. 

PPLT’s expanding project resume includes numerous conservation easements for agriculture and wildlife on Mullan Pass, in the Elkhorns, and the Helena Valley. We partnered with Five Valleys Land Trust to secure funding for the Lincoln River Park on the Blackfoot. The Upper Prickly Pear Fishing Access site and Tenmile Creek Park give all residents the chance to be at, near, or in the water. Projects near York have opened up opportunities for those who like to recreate in even wilder places. The restoration of Sevenmile Creek provides new habitat, flood mitigation, and place-based education. And the latest LeGrande Cannon purchase on Mt. Helena will minimize the risk of wildfires, while securing public access and great views. 

You help us keep our finger on the pulse of the community, which means we can continue to be dynamic and act quickly when opportunities arise to protect land and water in a way that benefits you. Looking ahead to the next fifty years, the opportunities we take advantage of now will become even more important. “Helena and surrounding areas will inevitably grow, but by protecting key lands and water access for future generations, these spaces can define our communities’ cultural values long into the future,” says Executive Director, Mary Hollow. 

Back in 1999, a handful of individuals recognized their town’s love for a mountain and took action to protect it. Today, Prickly Pear Land Trust has grown into an institution with a wide reach and dedicated staff equipped with the unique skills needed for land conservation. Together, we can keep the momentum going to protect not just the mountains, but also the creeks and valleys that we love and rely on.

 

CONSERVATION IN THE SOUTH HILLS 

Altogether, PPLT has worked to protect over 1,500 acres behind Montana’s Capitol and historic downtown Helena. And the tradition continues. Just this month, PPLT closed on over 90 acres of prime open space along the LeGrande Cannon Trail and up Mt. Helena’s West Side (see LeGrande Finale article). With the addition of the LeGrande parcel, PPLT has facilitated the transfer of 23 individual properties to public land in the South Hills. That’s 23 places that all are free to roam. In addition, PPLT holds three critical conservation easements on private land, meaning all of Mount Helena and Ascension will remain protected as open space for future generations.

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