Bozeman Pass Conservation Project Completed

October 15, 2010

An important new public trail just minutesfrom downtown Bozeman is now complete, capping a multi-year effort to protect 2,055acres and enhance public access in the Bozeman Pass area. The Trust for Public Land(TPL), the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) and the Gallatin National Forest (GNF) haveworked in partnership for nearly ten years on this landmark project that includes a largeconservation easement, a significant public land acquisition and creation of the new nonmotorizedChestnut Mountain and Frog Rock Trails.

The new trail caps a land protection and public access success story that beganalmost ten years ago when TPL and GVLT began working with local landowners Hugoand Shirley Schmidt and the GNF to protect a key part of a critical wildlife corridor forbear, elk, deer, moose and other wide-ranging species between the Gallatin, Bangtail andBridger mountain ranges. The trail was analyzed and discussed in the Gallatin ForestTravel Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement and Decision (2006) and in the2009 Roads and Trails Environmental Assessment.

The first part of the project was completed in 2006 when Gallatin County purchaseda conservation easement on 1,240 acres on the north side of Interstate 90, utilizing $800,000in funding from the Gallatin County Open Space Program. Another 640 acres werepurchased by TPL in 2007 and subsequently conveyed to the GNF over a two-year period,utilizing $2.6 million in congressional appropriations from the federal Land and WaterConservation Fund. The final 175 acres were donated to the GNF by the Schmidt familyand TPL in 2009.

Senator Max Baucus, who was instrumental in helping to secure the requiredfederal funding, praised the project, saying: "I'm pleased to see this kind of teamworkgoing into protecting our outdoor heritage. Public access to our wild places is one way wecan leave this place better than we found it so our kids and grandkids can continue toenjoy and explore places like the Chestnut Mountain and Frog Rock Trails."

"This means better access to the traditions we value as Montanans - like hunting,fishing and hiking," Senator Jon Tester said. "Because of the folks on the ground whoworked together on this project for years, our kids and grandkids will be no strangers toaccessing our state's famous outdoor heritage."

What makes this project truly extraordinary is the public recreation benefits that itaffords. Included in the 175 acres that were donated to the GNF is a popular local rockclimbing area that climbers historically accessed by parking illegally along Interstate 90within the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) right-of-way. Two years ago, afterseveral near-miss crashes, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) blocked thisaccess off, citing the inherent danger involved with pulling on and off the interstate in thislocation. Thankfully, access was subsequently restored when MDT gave the SouthwestMontana Climbers Coalition (SMCC) and other project partners the right to build a safeand dedicated trail through the FHA right-of-way. The new Rocky Canyon Trail parallelsthe interstate, starting at the old town of Chestnut, passing through intervening privateland and eventually ending up at the base of the rock climbing area.

Additional public access was also secured on the south side of Interstate 90 wherethe GNF just finished building a new non-motorized trail heading up to ChestnutMountain. The Chestnut Mountain trail starts at Trail Creek Road near Exit 316 and thenruns uphill through a small stretch of private land (GVLT's first ever conservationeasement), into lands that TPL and the GNF acquired as part of the project and then intoother National Forest System lands beyond where it eventually links up with the popularTrail Creek and Bear Creek trails.

"The conservation of this important wildlife corridor provides access to the GallatinNational Forest, something the Forest has been trying to achieve for years," said MaryErickson, Gallatin Forest Supervisor. "This access would not have been possible withoutthe partnership with GVLT, Gallatin County, SMCC and TPL." Erickson also commendedthe Schmidt family for their conservation efforts and the land donation they provided. "Itis important for everyone enjoying this new trail system to remember to respect theprivate land the Chestnut Mountain trail passes through prior to reaching public land tohelp ensure everyone benefits from this and future access efforts."

The new Chestnut Mountain trail is also creating a stir with local rock climbers.Volunteers from the SMCC will soon be completing a spur trail leading to the base of FrogRock. Until now, the limestone crags of this signature rock formation were difficult toaccess since it meant parking along Interstate 90, jumping over railroad tracks andtrespassing across private land. Now, rock climbers will have a permanent and safe wayof accessing an area that many only dreamed about before.

According to SMCC Executive Director Tom Kalakay, "Local climbers have beenexploring Bozeman Pass' limestone formations for many years, but continued access wasalways worrisome. The SMCC and its volunteer members jumped at the opportunity towork on a project that provides so many public benefits. We are absolutely thrilled withthe permanent access that climbers now have to Frog Rock and the climbing area on thenorth side of I-90."

Commissioner Bill Murdock, who was instrumental in getting the Gallatin CountyOpen Space Program off the ground, remarked that he was delighted to see 10 years ofhard work come to fruition and that he was particularly pleased with the important publicaccess and recreational values that it protects. As he put it, "It is refreshing to see a projectthat not only conserves important scenery and wildlife habitat but also providessignificant public access benefits in the process."

Alex Diekmann, TPL's local project manager, echoed Mr. Murdock's comments,indicating that he was proud to work on a project with so many public access values. "Bythemselves, the wildlife and scenic values of the Schmidt property are more than worthyof protection. But what really sets this project apart is the public access that we were ableto secure along the way. None of this would have been possible without the help ofGVLT, the Forest Service, the Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition and our many othercollaborators. Community-based land conservation is what it is all about."

"Completing this landmark project is a wonderful way to celebrate GVLT's 20thAnniversary," said GVLT Board President Micheline Bisaillon. "It brings together ourtrails and conservation missions, our very first conservation easement and a significantnew conservation achievement, and it's the product of a great partnership."

The Trust for Public Land is a leading national non-profit land conservation thatconserves land for people to enjoy and parks, wilderness, open space and playgrounds.Since 1972, TPL has conserved more than 3 million acres in 47 states. TPL's Montanaoffices are in Bozeman and Helena.

GVLT conserves southwest Montana's heritage of open landscapes, working farmsand ranches, healthy rivers, and wildlife habitat; and creates trails to connect people,communities and the land.