Bozeman Pass Conservation Project Completed

An important new public trail just minutes from downtown Bozeman is now complete, capping a multi-year effort to protect 2,055 acres 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) have worked in partnership for nearly ten years on this landmark project that includes a large conservation easement, a significant public land acquisition and creation of the new nonmotorized Chestnut Mountain and Frog Rock Trails.

The new trail caps a land protection and public access success story that began almost ten years ago when TPL and GVLT began working with local landowners Hugo and 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 and Bridger mountain ranges. The trail was analyzed and discussed in the Gallatin Forest Travel 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 purchased a 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 were purchased 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 Water Conservation Fund. The final 175 acres were donated to the GNF by the Schmidt family and TPL in 2009.

Senator Max Baucus, who was instrumental in helping to secure the required federal funding, praised the project, saying: “I’m pleased to see this kind of teamwork going into protecting our outdoor heritage. Public access to our wild places is one way we can leave this place better than we found it so our kids and grandkids can continue to enjoy 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 who worked together on this project for years, our kids and grandkids will be no strangers to accessing our state’s famous outdoor heritage.”

What makes this project truly extraordinary is the public recreation benefits that it affords. Included in the 175 acres that were donated to the GNF is a popular local rock climbing area that climbers historically accessed by parking illegally along Interstate 90within the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) right-of-way. Two years ago, after several near-miss crashes, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) blocked this access off, citing the inherent danger involved with pulling on and off the interstate in this location. Thankfully, access was subsequently restored when MDT gave the Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition (SMCC) and other project partners the right to build a safe and dedicated trail through the FHA right-of-way. The new Rocky Canyon Trail parallels the interstate, starting at the old town of Chestnut, passing through intervening private land 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 where the GNF just finished building a new non-motorized trail heading up to Chestnut Mountain. The Chestnut Mountain trail starts at Trail Creek Road near Exit 316 and then runs uphill through a small stretch of private land (GVLT’s first ever conservation easement), into lands that TPL and the GNF acquired as part of the project and then into other National Forest System lands beyond where it eventually links up with the popular Trail Creek and Bear Creek trails.

“The conservation of this important wildlife corridor provides access to the Gallatin National Forest, something the Forest has been trying to achieve for years,” said Mary Erickson, Gallatin Forest Supervisor. “This access would not have been possible without the partnership with GVLT, Gallatin County, SMCC and TPL.” Erickson also commended the Schmidt family for their conservation efforts and the land donation they provided. “It is important for everyone enjoying this new trail system to remember to respect the private land the Chestnut Mountain trail passes through prior to reaching public land to help 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 Frog Rock. Until now, the limestone crags of this signature rock formation were difficult to access since it meant parking along Interstate 90, jumping over railroad tracks and trespassing across private land. Now, rock climbers will have a permanent and safe way of accessing an area that many only dreamed about before.

According to SMCC Executive Director Tom Kalakay, “Local climbers have been exploring Bozeman Pass’ limestone formations for many years, but continued access was always worrisome. The SMCC and its volunteer members jumped at the opportunity to work on a project that provides so many public benefits. We are absolutely thrilled with the permanent access that climbers now have to Frog Rock and the climbing area on the north side of I-90.”

Commissioner Bill Murdock, who was instrumental in getting the Gallatin County Open Space Program off the ground, remarked that he was delighted to see 10 years of hard work come to fruition and that he was particularly pleased with the important public access and recreational values that it protects. As he put it, “It is refreshing to see a project that not only conserves important scenery and wildlife habitat but also provides significant 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. “By themselves, the wildlife and scenic values of the Schmidt property are more than worthy of protection. But what really sets this project apart is the public access that we were able to secure along the way. None of this would have been possible without the help of GVLT, the Forest Service, the Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition and our many other collaborators. 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 our trails and conservation missions, our very first conservation easement and a significant new conservation achievement, and it’s the product of a great partnership.”

The Trust for Public Land is a leading national non-profit land conservation that conserves 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 Montana offices are in Bozeman and Helena.

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