OPEN to Elk, Deer, Bear, Moose, Hikers, Bikers, Skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Now we can keep it that way!
For years, local hikers, bikers and skiers used the galaxy of trails on the Spring Hill claim block, located three miles south of Helena encompassing both Grizzly and Oro Fino Gulches with no regard to ownership. These trails are easily accessible from either Oro Fino Gulch Road or Grizzly Gulch Road. Many trail users probably did not know that Spring Hill was for those many years privately owned. Then, a growing concern among some that public use of Spring Hill might end because its owners had decided to sell the land for development led to a secure solution.
Although Spring Hill appears on the map to be a single tract of land comprising 457 acres, it is actually composed of 26 separate patented mining tracts. Nestled within the Helena National Forest on both sides, a few of the patented tracts were actively mined until WW II. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, the possibility existed that Spring Hill could be mined again; however, for a variety of reasons, mining at Spring Hill became less feasible. When mining ended in the late 1940’s, uninvited public use of the trails that crisscross Spring Hill began to increase.
While Helena National Forest officials were long interested in acquiring this land that is enveloped by public lands and is such an important recreation and wildlife corridor, absent the threat of development, there was little impetus to act.
Once owners of Spring Hill decided mining was not an option, they realized that many of their mining properties commanded awesome views of the surrounding countryside, and these tracts might profitably be developed into residential lots. Their conclusion was further buttressed by the fact that expensive and time-consuming compliance with subdivision review by local government might not be required on patented mining lands. For these reasons, it appeared likely that Spring Hill could become a large residential subdivision just inside the boundaries of the national forest.
In February, 2003, the Prickly Pear Land Trust (PPLT) came to the rescue and purchased 457 acres of land at Spring Hill for nearly $500,000 with assistance from a local bank, which helped finance the purchase. Since the Forest Service could not purchase Spring Hill out-right, PPLT sought other partners to help finance the purchase.
Having secured the commitment of two other non-profit groups – the Montana Discovery Foundation (MDF) and the Montana History Foundation (MHF) – to help raise funds to purchase portions of Spring Hill, PPLT decided in 2003 to go forward with the purchase.
Over the course of several years, plans changed as the land exchange possibilities became impossible. Lots of patience, sweat, and hard work along with strong support from Montana’s congressional delegation, however, eventually allowed the Helena National Forest to buy the land with a 301 acres being transferred from PPLT to the HNF in 2006 and the balance in 2009.
The Spring Hill Claim Block spans both Grizzly Gulch and Orofino Gulch.
It is located less than three miles south of downtown Helena.
It is nearly surrounded by Helena National Forest lands.
It includes the popular Wakina Sky area.
It provides important habitat for deer, elk, moose, bear and other species.
Public ownership now allows the Forest Service to manage the wildland-urban interface, including fire, critical open spaces, and weed reduction.
Trails on the claim block are now incorporated into the South Hills Trails Complex – details are included on South Hills Trail Maps published by the Prickly Pear Land Trust and available at the MDF Gift Shop, PPLT office or at most local sporting goods outlets.