(HELENA) The LeGrande Cannon Trail is a popular scenic path, running along a former roadway in Helena’s South Hills. It features striking views of the Helena Valley and of Mount Helena.
Now, a new proposal could provide permanent protection for this area. Prickly Pear Land Trust is currently working on finalizing a deal to purchase about 72 acres of land, mostly south of the trail. The organization then plans to donate it to the city of Helena, so it can be preserved as open space.
PPLT executive director Mary Hollow said the property, which is adjacent to Mount Helena Park, would be a valuable addition to the city’s open space system.
“This property in particular is one with such huge emotional attachment,” she said. “It’s the west side of Mount Helena, which for a lot of people is a major identifying marker for the community.”
The LeGrande Cannon Trail starts near the end of Silverette Street. It was once part of LeGrande Cannon Boulevard, a road built around Mount Helena more than a century ago and named in memory of the son of early Helena businessman C.W. Cannon. It has now been closed to cars for years, but it is frequently used by pedestrians and bicyclists.
The property around the trail is currently owned by the estate of William Whyte. Hollow said the Whyte family had long been generous in allowing public access.
“The land that we’re talking about is actually land that a lot of people thought was already in public ownership,” she said.
More than a decade ago, PPLT started talking to Whyte about creating a potential conservation easement on the land. After Whyte’s death, they began working with his heirs on a purchase agreement.
“This project makes permanent that public access, and provides that land to the public in a way that it’ll be there for future generations,” Hollow said.
Hollow thanked the Whyte family for their commitment to conservation.
“This is possible because of them,” she said.
She said the purchase will bring benefits in a wide variety of areas.
“Obviously conservation, open space – maintaining that is really important for the public,” she said. “With that comes the recreation values that a lot of people know this land for.”
One important change would be that the city would have a greater ability to do wildfire fuel mitigation work in the area.
“This property in particular in our county’s fire modeling is one that lights up bright red in terms of needing fuel treatment,” said Hollow. “If it’s in public ownership, we can make that happen.”
Hollow said PPLT signed a buy-sell agreement with the landowners in April. Since then, they have been going through a due diligence process. One of the final steps will be for the city to sign off on the proposed donation. The Helena City Commission will consider giving final approval at their meeting Monday evening.
PPLT raised some of the money for the purchase through private donations. Some funding also came from a U.S. Department of Defense program that supports maintaining compatible uses in areas around military installations. That program applied because preserving the LeGrande Cannon area will protect flight paths from Fort Harrison.
Hollow said they have seen strong support for the purchase from people in the surrounding areas, though they have not been able to heavily publicize it until now. She said that support will be very important as the project moves forward.
“There are a lot of needs for this property to be the best that it can be, and some of those areas where we’ll need volunteers in the future, we’re just getting started,” she said.