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Missoula Measures - Open Space


Why this topic?

During the past several decades, the Missoula urban area has experienced significant population increases, with the subsequent subdivision of thousands of acres. As the Missoula Valley fills up, the remaining open space becomes more valued — open hillsides provide a scenic backdrop as well as winter range for wildlife, growing soccer leagues need more fields, and more residents require more neighborhood parks. Missoula’s efforts to protect open space derive from a holistic approach of comprehensive community planning. The idea is to determine which lands the community wants to keep open, and then for the city and county to use a number of tools to build livable communities around and within them. These tools include good subdivision design, cooperative agreements with landowners and other public agencies, conservation easements, regulations, and public acquisitions. Whether owned by private citizens, corporations, or the federal, state, or local government, all open space land presents a different balance of values for wildlife and people. This measure reflects the open space owned by city and county government.

How are we doing?

Sixty years ago, we were surrounded by open space. There was little developmental pressure outside the city, and farmers, hunters, hikers, and wildlife all had plenty of room to roam. Local government owned little acreage. Rapid population growth has changed all that. When Missoula adopted its Open Space Plan in 1995, 1200 acres were preserved in open space. Since passage of the $5 million open space bond, Missoula acquired 1340 acres of Mount Jumbo conservation land and 480 acres on Waterworks Hill, the visual backdrop to downtown. The city is acquiring additional land to develop a bicycle commuter network and three trails projects, and is negotiating for 100 acres of play fields. These projects, as well as new small parks created through the subdivision process and gifts, have expanded Missoula’s open space to approximately 3020 acres.

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graph missoula park land acres

Missoula Parks & Recreation, Office of Planning & Grants

Brief Background

Missoula urban area Open Space Plan

The Missoula Urban Open Space Plan (may be slow to download), adopted by the city and county of Missoula in 2006, addresses Missoula’s growing open space needs.  (As of 2013, there has been no update of the plan.) Parks and conservation lands are central components of the open space plan; agricultural and urban forest lands are complementary elements; and trails, views, and vistas are the links. Open space centers around "cornerstones," important parks and conservation lands that anchor the system. The Open Space Plan also recommends integrating open space into neighborhood planning, linking efforts with local, state, and federal agencies, and working towards a solidly funded land management and maintenance program.

Save Open Space (SOS)

Formed in the Spring of 1993, Save Open Space, Inc. (SOS) is a local grassroots organization whose main goal is to preserve open space located within the greater Missoula urban area. This is mainly achieved through the donation of conservation easements to SOS from private land owners. SOS currently holds eight conservation easements, totaling about 187 acres of open space. Public education concerning the benefits of open space to the community are also stressed, as well as advocating for local open space acquisition and management. The SOS Speaker's Bureau is available to give presentations to groups interested in learning more about open space preservation in the Missoula valley. An all-volunteer organization, SOS is set up in a way that encourages local residents to be actively involved in the preservation process. Past SOS projects include: working with other local conservation organizations to get the Open Space Bond passed; helping with the "Save Mount Jumbo" campaign; and, facilitating the transfer of a three acre marsh from private to public ownership.

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For more information or to become a SOS member contact:

Conservation Easements

 As of Dec. 2010, there are 51,357 acres held as Conservation Easements in Missoula County.

Cost of Public Parks

How much do Missoula city residents pay for access to City Parks & Recreation, with its 3020 acres of developed and undeveloped parks, open space, and trails, as well as leased lands, services, and programs?

ANNUAL per capita parks & Recreation spending
Year Amount
1995 $16.26
1996 $17.16
1997 $20.81
1998 $26.00
2010 $30.23

Missoula Parks & Recreation

Human-Wildlife Conflicts

One reason we need open space is to reduce human encroachment on wildlife—a resource highly valued by Missoulians. This need is sometimes in direct opposition to public expectations for ready access to publicly owned lands (for example, winter access to Mount Jumbo, when elk use the area). Other wildlife conflicts can arise where individual residences are built in wild settings, or when relatively dense suburban development adjoins National Forest land or other large forested acreage. Dense development already extends into the major Missoula Valley drainages. Subdivision design that keeps houses and roads out of wildlife movement corridors, as well as feeding and shelter areas, can help reduce the problem of human-wildlife conflict.

 The most common conflict is with bears.  They are attracted to bird feeders, pet food that is left outdoors, and garbage cans.  An animal that becomes habituated to finding food in residential neighborhoods can cause serious problems when it looses it's fear of people.  Those bears usually have to be killed to reduce the risk of injury to people. The city of Missoula has an ordinance that address reducing bear attraction to garbage.  (One component of the ordinance states that garbage cans should not be put out before 5 am on the day of pick-up.)


Related Websites

Lincoln Institute of Land Policy - the economic value of open space

Resources for the Future - value of open space

Five Valleys Land Trust - a Missoula-based organization that creates conservation easements in and around Missoula. 


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