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FWP plans to add 30 acres to Missouri Headwaters State Park

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is currently completing an Environmental Assessment to facilitate the acquisition of 30 acres for permanent inclusion into the Missouri Headwaters State Park near Three Forks.

The 30-acre Hart property would be purchased by the Montana State Parks Foundation (MSPF) with funds provided by a grant from Montana's Outdoor Legacy Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The property is currently appraised at $930,000, and depending on the terms of the purchase agreement, the MSFP would acquire the property in fee title from the Harts and then transfer it to FWP, or FWP would purchase the property directly from the Harts in early 2024.

According to the Draft Environmental Assessment, the purchase would permanently secure and protect important habitat and cultural resources on the property and protect Missouri Headwaters State Park by securing the important inholding and preventing other types of development that could adversely affect the park.

The Hart property consists of a residential home and several outbuildings on a footprint of around four acres and about 26 acres of what is described as mixed wetland and riparian areas, grasses, shrubs, and some timber. The property also includes a historic barn from the era of Gallatin City II, which was established in the 1860s and one of the Gallatin Valley's earliest settlements.

Two other historic outbuildings are also on the property, one built around 1930 and the other around 1950.

According to the draft, the Hart family and FWP have been speaking for several years about their mutual desire for FWP to purchase the property to safeguard the habitat, riparian, cultural, and recreational values of the property and Missouri Headwaters State Park.

The first project objective listed in the draft states the property acquisition would protect the heart of Missouri Headwaters State Park.

"Ownership by someone other than the Harts or a public land management agency could drastically alter the look and use of the property, which could result in significant adverse impacts on the habitat, riparian, recreational, and cultural resources of the adjacent MHSP depending on the venture" states the Draft EA.

The second objective states the project would protect the cultural resources and enhance interpretive opportunities in the area.

The draft states that the land encompassing MHSP has been an important site for Indigenous peoples for thousands of years and a vital crossroads for non-Indigenous traders and settlers since Lewis and Clark first passed through in 1805.

The third objective of the proposed project would be to protect and restore riparian and upland habitat and state the acquisition would help preserve habitat for these species and others in perpetuity and provide wildlife-based recreation for the public to enjoy, including hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and photography.

The final project objective is to protect and improve recreational opportunities, including pubic access to 26 additional acres, additional access to trails, and additional opportunities for hunting and fishing.

"Despite degraded instream and riparian habitats, Rae Creek provides important spawning and rearing habitats for rainbow and brown trout that spend much of their lives in the surrounding mainstem rivers. The property is positioned near the confluence with the Gallatin River, so migrating fish much pass through the property to access upstream spawning habitats in Rae Creek. Although not a barrier to fish movements, FWP could easily address an undersized and improperly installed culvert on the property that has scoured the streambed and exacerbated streambank erosion immediately downstream of the crossing while making fish passage more challenging than necessary. Acquisition of the property would also facilitate riparian restoration by improving willow and cottonwood recruitment and survival, which would reduce streambank erosion and improve wildlife habitat on the property. Addressing those habitat issues would also improve the resident trout populations in Rae Creek and provide additional angling opportunity in the Gallatin Valley," states the draft.