Land trust plans advance for Peets Hill Development

by Taylor Brandt for the MSU Exponent

September 17, 2022

Last January, Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) and the City of Bozeman secured a $1.2 million purchase of 12 acres of land on the south end of Peets Hill. Now, these two organizations are working together to plan improvements to this new area of Peets Hill.

“[The purchase of this land] was GVLT’s biggest and fastest fundraising campaign ever. And I think that’s a testament to the love that people have for the park,” said Matt Parsons, GVLT’s trail director. Peets Hill, lovingly referred to as Bozeman’s Central Park by Parsons, was GVLT’s first project 30 years ago. The Hill is a “little slice of nature in Bozeman’s urban core. The reason that it’s still there, and not condos, is because people saw that [slice of nature] and they said, this is something worth protecting,” said Parsons. “30 years later, here we are talking about it. Still, it’s relevant to the community.”

GVLT is currently working with landscape architecture firms around town on designing a gathering area big enough to accommodate around 20 people at the top of the new park expansion. Currently, the design for this area consists of a medicine wheel with stone bench seating in a circular pattern and steel range finders showing the surrounding mountain ranges: Bridger, Gallatin, Madison, Tobacco Roots, and Elkhorn.

Further down from this area, GVLT plans to create an “all-abilities, wheelchair friendly” trail to an overlook spot in the new expansion. The goal for this overlook is for it to be more family-oriented and accessible for all who travel through the park. However, contracting work on the overlook won’t begin till next summer.

Still, GVLT had been working on the general development of this new parcel of land. This past June during National Trails Day, GVLT worked to smooth out the access trail for Peets Hill and tamp down drain dumps to help prevent erosion– with the help of around 150 volunteers. “That was a big deal for us finally getting in there because it was private property previously. It was kind of unclear whose management responsibility that was,” Parsons said. “Now it looks great. It’s a dramatic improvement.”

In July, GVLT installed two trail counters on Peets Hill, one in the pre-existing area of the park and one in the expanded area. These helped gather information about the use of the park by Bozemanites. According to Parsons, the main portion of Peets Hill has around 800 to 1,000 visitors a day while the new portion only receives around 200 to 300 visitors a day.

Because of visitor numbers, Parsons said he’s unsure if GVLT will develop more trails– besides the trails leading to the overlook zone– in the new parcel of park land, according to Parsons. With the new portion of the park receiving about a quarter of the traffic that the main portion of the park receives, new trails may not be needed.

Another factor GVLT must consider during the development is that the new parcel of land is a prominent wildlife corridor and also home to a fox den. Parsons noted that this has raised concern for some about developing trails in the new park land. As the project moves forward, GVLT will work to find a balance between conserving wildlife habitats and facilitating public access to the new park land.

“This is the perfect project for us, because of our roots in Peets Hill, but also the fact that it’s a conservation and trails project and so it married those two missions for us,” he said.

The next step for GVLT in their planning process for the park expansion will be releasing an informal survey to allow the public to voice their thoughts about Peets Hill and what improvements they would like to see. According to Parsons, GVLT would love to hear student feedback on the survey. It will be released this fall on GVLT’s social media and newsletter.

“We’re not trying to change the character of the park. We really want to keep it [a] natural park,” Parsons said, expanding upon the tentative ideas GVLT has for the future. “What we are looking to do is create that experience that people had 30 years ago when Bozeman was half the size. I think there’s a good thoughtful way to do that without damaging plant life and wildlife access.”

Read the original article here.