Where the Elk Roam—Upper LeGrande Land Added to Helena Public Lands

The new addition to Mount Helena’s west side connects open public lands of all types. - excerpt from fall 2020 newsletter.

When PPLT’s Travis Vincent leads a walking tour through the recently acquired property, his excitement and admiration for the 55-acre parcel is palpable. He praises how well Paul Graham, the most recent landowner and PPLT partner, has cared for the property, be it intensive weed mitigation or fuels reduction. Travis points out where an elk herd winters and he strolls through two small meadows that the herd finds accommodating.
Plus, it’s protected. He notes the State Trust land to the west, the City of Helena property to the east and the expansive Forest Service domain to the south make it completely surrounded by public lands. The acquisition, Mr. Graham adds, “opens up that whole mountain for public access.”

Travis loves the rugged and varied terrain. “With all the different features it makes it (appear) a lot larger than 55 acres,” he says. The geology alone, with its impressive outcrops, is an attraction. Craig Stiles of Helena, summarized the rock outcroppings typical to Mt. Helena and the addition, “… from us local retired geologists who hunt the elusive stromatolites of the Precambrian rocks around us. Simply the single most important contributor to initial oxygenation of our planet, and consequently life, exists on these lands for anyone to see and contemplate.”
Paul logged the property in 2001 and again in 2007, pointing out how healthy the remaining stands of Ponderosa, Douglas fir, juniper and even a couple of white pines are. “When the beetle kill hit, we had very little (infestation),” a fact he attributes to proactive forestry.
As the Land Trust’s project lead, Travis helped shepherd the acquisition of the property, working with the Department of Defense to secure the majority of the project funds through the Army Compatible Use Buffer program. The project also received funding from onX Maps and a donation from the landowners, Paul and his wife Becky, whose family had owned the land since the 1960s.

The parcel, which sits on the northwest flank of Mount Helena and is adjacent to the recently acquired LeGrande addition, is within one mile of Fort Harrison, making it eligible for the funding, Col. Todd Verrill told the Independent Record. As with other Prickly Pear acquisitions on Mount Helena, the property has been transferred to the City of Helena, which, in turn, will manage it as part of its open space lands. While the land should ultimately provide an extension of recreation opportunities to the west of the Mount Helena trail system, there are no immediate development plans, according to Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands Director, Kristi Ponozzo.

Initially, the city will continue to look at fuels and weeds treatment and “are thinking about a recreation planning process as part of the adjacent LeGrande Cannon trail property. We’ll look at it holistically,’’ she says, while weighing “the use, access and amenities of what the community wants.”

This latest addition to Helena’s impressive public lands portfolio again is testimony to what can occur when local organizations work together. “It’s a theme of teamwork,” says PPLT Executive Director, Mary Hollow. “We’re all in this together, for the greater good of all of us who live in this community … PPLT, the city, the Montana Army National Guard, onX Maps, the landowner.”