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Land Trust, city reach deal on park land along river

Steve Powell Park

Courtesy photo

Without fanfare, the residents of Hamilton officially gained a new place to reset surrounded by nature recently.

On the last day of October, the Bitter Root Land Trust and city of Hamilton signed the papers that turned ownership of 22 acres of prime parkland along the Bitterroot River to the community.

The Steve Powell Park was named in honor of the man who founded the land trust years ago.

“It was a long time in coming,” said Bitter Root Land Trust executive director Gavin Ricklefs. “It took a lot of different people and commitments to make it happen. It will be a great tribute to Steve and a great amenity for the community for a long, long time.”

The park was a first in many different ways.

It was the first time that the Hamilton-based land trust had made the commitment to purchase a piece of property with the intention of preserving it for future generations.

To make that happen, the trust had to count on the community to step forward and help provide the $315,000 needed to purchase the land, build a pedestrian bridge and meet a variety of other expenses.

The community came together with a variety of other partners, including the joint program of the Montana Association of Land Trusts and Montana Innkeepers Association called the Travelers for Open Land Fund. That program is funded through voluntary donations from hotel guests.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust also provided funding.

For the first time, the Ravalli County Open Lands Bond provided funding for an outright purchase of land for public recreation.

“All in all, it was a big fundraising effort that brought in funds from tons of different sources,” Ricklefs said.

The effort also marked the first time the land trust and the city combined efforts on a project.

“We were able to use the strengths of both the city and the land trust on this project,” Ricklefs said. “The land trust is well suited to work with private landowners toward the purchase of the land. We’re not well suited for managing that land in the long term.”

That’s where the city could make its difference.

Hamilton Mayor Jerry Steele said it’s nice to share the good news that the transfer of the land has been made to the city.

“We are going to want it to stay a natural park for people to enjoy,” Steele said.

Eventually, Steele said the city would like to see easements in place that would allow a walking trail all along the city’s edge of the Bitterroot River.

“We think this new park is going to be a great addition to the city,” he said. “It couldn’t have been named after a nicer kid. Steve (Powell) and I went to kindergarten together. He made a real difference in this community.”

The new park would have never happened without the efforts of the Bitter Root Land Trust, Steele said.

“Gavin and his crew worked really hard to get this deal done,” he said. “My hat is off to those guys.”

Ricklefs takes it one step beyond the land trust’s involvement.

John and Helen Taber’s two daughters – Jeannie Taber Green and Lynn Taber Sherwood – grew up listening to their parents’ vision of preserving the land forever in its natural state. Their decision to follow their parents’ dream is what made it all possible.

“They wanted to make sure that their parent’s wishes were respected,” Ricklefs said. “Their parents wanted to keep it open and natural for wildlife and make sure that public could safely use it into the future.”

The land trust placed a conservation easement on the property to ensure that it will remain in its natural state for generations to come.

“It’s never going to turn into a developed park,” Ricklefs said. “It will remain a natural area close to town. It’s almost hard to believe that we now have something like this within a two-minute walk from downtown Hamilton.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at


Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.