East Helena Parks and Trails

Parks and Trails in the Prickly Pear Valley

Prickly Pear Creek meanders north from the Elkhorn Mountains through Montana City and East Helena before joining Tenmile Creek in the Prickly Pear Valley. The American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) began operating a smelter on the banks of Prickly Pear Creek in the 1880s. The smelter was vital to the economy and identity of East Helena. In 1984, due to historic lead and arsenic contamination, the site was added to the Superfund list. The smelter closed in 2001 and the ASARCO bankruptcy settlement assigned ownership and responsibility for cleanup and reuse of about 2,000 acres to the Montana Environmental Trust Group. In 2011, residents of East Helena asked Prickly Pear Land Trust to help develop parks and trails. Since then, we have worked with national, state, and regional agencies to to restore the waterway and create a recreational corridor that will connect East Helena and Montana City.


In 2015, Prickly Pear Land Trust received funding from the Natural Resource Damage Program to initiate a planning and visioning process for a proposed trail and parks corridor from Montana City to East Helena. After significant public outreach, we found that the trail corridor was feasible and poised to provide multiple benefits for the communities of East Helena, Montana City, and Helena. Prickly Pear Land Trust worked with federal, state, and local agencies and organizations to secure funding for the construction of the trail system and its long-term maintenance and management. In December 2020, after years of multi-partner collaboration, the Montana Environmental Trust Group conveyed 243 acres along the reconstructed Prickly Pear Creek corridor south of Highway 12 and approximately 80 acres along the creek near Kennedy Park in East Helena to the land trust. Since then, Prickly Pear Land Trust has worked with partners to build trails and amenities in order to open two new parks in East Helena. We continue to work on securing key properties and rights of way to create the Greenway, an 8-mile trail connecting East Helena to Montana City.


The ASARCO lead smelter, in operation from 1888 until 2001, was the economic lifeblood of East Helena for more than 100 years, but the smelter contaminated the air, water, and soils in the area with heavy metals and other hazardous substances. The bankruptcy settlement with ASARCO dedicated funds to remove contamination from the former plant site and surrounding area. The cleanup under the Superfund program began in 2010. Since then, much of the property has been reclaimed and is returning to a more natural state with new vegetation growing along the stream and new wetlands bringing wildlife back to the land.

Help us connect land and people

South Hills trail that closed in July reopens with permanent easement

After closing to the public in July, Montana City’s primary access to the South Hills Trail System has reopened with an easement that will keep it public forever.

Greenway FAQ #2

Many of you have asked and PPLT has answered! Here are some responses to frequently asked questions regarding the Prickly Pear Creek Greenway project.

Land Transfer Launches East Helena Project

The transfer of two properties, totalling 323 acres along Prickly Pear Creek begins the multi-Year Greenway and parkland project. Green space is a part of a bright East Helena future.