HELENA — The Lewis and Clark County Commission is moving forward with a million-dollar agreement that will preserve open space on the east side of the Helena Valley.
Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to use just over $1 million from the county’s open lands bond for a conservation easement on the Potter Ranch, in the Spokane Hills.
Landowners Douglas and Ronda Potter have been working with Prickly Pear Land Trust for several years to arrange the easement. The deal leaves the 3,122-acre property in their hands, but creates a permanent guarantee that it won’t be broken up or developed.
The Potter Ranch is currently used for hay production and grazing. Douglas Potter told MTN his family has been working on the land for three generations.
“We felt that land should stay untouched by development,” he said.
Travis Vincent, a project manager with PPLT, said the Potter Ranch is one of the few working ranches of its size left in the Helena Valley. He said it also stands out because of the wildlife habitat it provides, and because one of its open ridgelines can be seen from many parts of the Valley.
“I can see us in the future pointing to this project as the prime example of what a conservation easement is,” Vincent said. “You can drive past it and you can still see antelope out here and see elk right from your car. That’s going be there forever, and you can see it from the middle of Main Street in East Helena.”
County leaders said they had received some public comment criticizing the easement because it does not include a provision for public access. They said full public access isn’t appropriate now because of the property’s geography and its status as a working ranch. However, Vincent said the Potters had allowed limited access to the land for a number of years.
Vincent said he hoped the public would see the value of preserving the land as it is, even without additional access.
“I think they would be devastated if this property were to be developed,” he said.