GREAT FALLS — Just south of Great Falls adjacent to Grizzly Drive is 72 acres of state land that’s commonly used by wildlife and hikers. The state wants to develop it into apartments and other projects but there’s a group in Great Falls working to prevent that so people can continue to enjoy hikes and the outdoors in that area.
The last few years have been full of debate on whether to develop it and use it for other purposes.
The Missouri River Open Space Preservation group has been working over the last few years to prevent the land from being developed. Now they say the state is getting more aggressive and forcing their hand.
Committee member Jean Clary says the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) has a certain criteria and timeline for the group to act within and the time to act is now. She added this has been going on for years and had a break due to Covid and the topic being put on the backburner, but for Clary and the Preservation group, the pressure is on.
“The DNRC is the one that oversees the land. We are somewhat under the gun. The DNRC has wanted to do something with that piece of land for a while. There’s foxes out there, mallards, geese, pheasants, tons of deer. Right now, we have four bald eagles. One mature and three immatures. We’re encroaching on that environment too if it’s developed and I think that’d be a huge mistake,” Clary said. “People don’t want to see it become anything other than what it already is.”
The state owns the land and wants to lease it and turn it into projects like apartments and gas stations, but the preservation group says that would lead to problems. There are houses in the surrounding area but the group says they want to preserve it so people can enjoy its hikes and connection to nature. Morgan Marks is a member of the preservation group and joined last summer. She says the plot of land is close to her home and she uses it daily and has become a big part of her life.
“Public access is a huge value of Montanans. Many people who live in this area who use it would say this but for me, I literally, almost come hell or high water am out there every single day with our dog just walking,” Marks said. “It’s just become a part of my every day. That’s where we go to get outside. I work from home and it’s right there. And I can just go out and be outside. It would take away not only my, like our personal quality of life but a lot of other peoples as well.”
The group has been working to raise money to prevent the development from happening. They have not reached their financial goal, but they want to spread awareness as well. The group is currently awaiting the county attorney to review documents and the next step will be to appraise the land. The group doesn’t know exactly how much the land is worth because it is divided into two parcels. One is adjacent to the river, making it only available to be leased, according to state law. They estimate they will have to raise anywhere from $500,000 to more than $1 million.