Seventy-five acres composed of two old mining claims in the Paradise Valley have been purchased by the Custer Gallatin National Forest, protecting it from development.
“Preserving such parcels in the heart of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is a win for future generations,” said Alex Sienkiewicz, District Ranger for the Yellowstone Ranger District, in a statement.
The land, purchased for $218,000, is located close to where a Canadian mining company has proposed conducting exploratory drilling in search of precious metals.
The threat of mining in the region led to a mineral withdrawal of 30,000 acres of federal lands in 2019 under the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act.
The act was endorsed by several Montana politicians on both sides of the aisle, including: Gov. Greg Gianforte, who was then a US Representative for the state; Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester; and Ryan Zinke, who served from 2017-18 as the secretary of the Department of Interior.
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The Forest Service’s purchase was funded with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s Critical Inholding account, since the property is surrounded on three sides by forest lands, according to Anna Ball, a realty specialist with the Forest Service.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, based in Bozeman, facilitated the purchase by moving quickly to acquire the land when it was offered for sale by Mary Britton in 2019.
“GYC jumped at the opportunity to work with the previous owner when they offered to sell us this critical in-holding and mineral rights,” said Joe Josephson, senior Montana conservation associate for Greater Yellowstone Coalition, in a statement.
That gave the Forest Service time to go through its due diligence and secure funding.
“It’s good to see those funds put to work and make it more publicly accessible,” Ball said.
The property is located approximately 4.5 miles southeast of Chico Hot Springs Resort in Park County.
The narrow mountain canyon was one of the first areas in the region where miners discovered gold in 1862, when it was still part of the Crow Indian Reservation. At one time it was “known for containing the largest discovery of placer gold” in the region – 40,000 ounces – according to the Forest Service. Scars of the mine dredging still exist in the canyon.
The two patents purchased by the Forest Service date back to 1901 and 1931, Ball said.
“This opens access to national forest lands,” she added. “It’s beautiful back there, but definitely pretty rugged.”
One of the parcels the Forest Service purchased follows the main road back into Emigrant Gulch, along Emigrant Creek. The rocky route is popular with hikers, rock climbers, Emigrant Peak baggers, ATVers and skiers. The other parcel juts out east and west from the gulch, climbing the mountainsides. The west side is close to Forest Service Trail 3273, popular with backcountry skiers.
“Improving public access and recreation opportunities ranging from skiing, rock climbing, ATVs to dispersed camping are an added bonus,” Josephson said.
Several nonprofit groups collaborated to lobby for protection of the region under the banner of “Yellowstone is more valuable than gold.” One of the alliances at the front of the charge was the local Park County Environmental Council, based in Livingston.
“We’re so grateful to see these 75 acres in Emigrant Gulch added to the Custer Gallatin National Forest and the area permanently protected under the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act,” said Erica Lighthiser, deputy director of the PCEC. “Acquiring these key private holdings ensures this land will never be developed or mined. It’s a great example of what happens when a community comes together: we’re able to save land that’s home to native wildlife.”
Mining can still occur on private patents in the region. There are about 17 mining claims near Emigrant Gulch known as the St. Julian mining patent. The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act also targeted mining claims near a historic mining district near Gardiner and Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance, known as the Crevice Mining District.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which bankrolled the federal purchase in Emigrant Gulch, was created in 1964. It is funded by revenue the government collects from offshore oil and gas leases. Each year, $900 million is allocated to the fund to be used for the protection of public lands and waters. For 55 years, $22 billion was amused from the fund. Then in 2020 Congress approved the Great American Outdoors Act, ending the diversion so the entire $900 million a year could go to conservation and recreation projects.
LWCF funds have gone to other public land acquisitions in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, including the purchase of 3,400 acres in the Taylor Fork in 2003, and the protection of 2,000 acres just east of Bozeman on Chestnut Mountain in 2020.