A New Section of Trail at Kirk Hill

July 16, 2021

Several years ago, a large tree fell across the trail on the east side of Montana State University Alumni Foundation’s Kirk Hill trail network. A social trail began to form around the tree, unintentionally breaking away from the original route and treading through private property for nearly half a mile before reconnecting with the initial path.

Kirk Hill was gifted to the MSU Alumni Foundation in 1968 from the Kirk Family. The trail network was developed by volunteers, and for years, volunteers managed both the trails and the area. It is hard to say how long the tree blocked the original Kirk Hill route, but it was long enough that overgrowth overtook the trail, and the secondary social trail became the primary route.

GVLT did not enter the picture until 2017, when we partnered with the MSU Alumni Foundation to restore the Kirk Hill parking lot and trailhead signage. Serving as project and volunteer management, we began planning this year’s reroute to pull the trail off private property and back into the originally intended area last summer.

“The landowner has been great to work with through this whole process,” said GVLT Trails Director Matt Parsons, “and the new section of trail is a huge improvement.”

At just under half a mile, the new section of trail follows the gentle curve of the Kirk Hill eastern hillside, providing trail-users with views of the Gallatin Valley, Bridger Mountains and Montana State University.

“This section of trail still offers a healthy grade, but features rolling drain ditches to catch sediment and prevent erosion. We have put this new section of trail pretty much where the old section was but added several switchbacks to lessen the grade.”

MSU Alumni Foundation hired Wildwood Trails to lay out the trail and construct it in coordination with GVLT. With hardworking staff and volunteers from onX, Wisetail, Visions, and the general community, we finished naturalizing the rerouted section of trail Wednesday evening. The new section of the trail officially opens this afternoon (Friday). Kirk Hill is open to foot traffic only, and the trail can now be enjoyed by runners, hikers, walkers and their dogs (leashes required) in its entirety.  We continue to look for creative solutions to improve the narrow, steep section of trail that leads to the Kirk Hill natural area.

Kirk Hill is a primary example of what can happen when social trails form. Not only can you trample the naturally occurring grasses and wildflowers, unintentionally destroy wildlife habitat, spread noxious weeds, and erode the trail, you may also end up trespassing on private property. Stick to the intended route and let us know if you come across something obstructing the path. GVLT is happy to come out and make trail improvements or put you in touch with the trail’s managing entities.