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Montana parks board gives initial OK to land purchase plan

March 5, 2022 GMT

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Montana State Parks and Recreation Board has granted preliminary approval to a plan to try to purchase land along the lower Yellowstone River in hopes of creating public access and promoting tourism and economic development.

The land acquisition where the lower Yellowstone River and Powder River join could be anchored by a state park west of Terry, the Billings Gazette reported.

The project is ultimately envisioned to stretch 163 miles (262 kilometers) from Hysham downstream to Sidney, said Montana Parks and Recreation Division administrator Hope Stockwell.

The approval is preliminary and the parks division will hold discussions with landowners before a final proposal is submitted.

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The land includes the site of a U.S. Army camp dating from 1876, the same summer that the Battle of the Little Bighorn occurred to the southwest.

Excavation in 1985 by the federal Bureau of Land Management unearthed a garbage dump with artifacts from the era. The land was also once home to historic stagecoach stops and range rider stations.

Parks board member Mary Moe said the site has “incredible potential” to provide recreation for a full day of activities.

“It’s really an exciting potential center of this project,” she added.

The state has authorized $4 million for land acquisitions along the lower Yellowstone which could be leveraged to receive federal grants to expand the funding base. The Powder River Depot property is one of the latest properties identified.

News about possible land acquisitions in the region has sparked concern among some Eastern Montana landowners, Stockwell said, who are concerned the plan would lead to restrictions on how they can use their land or the river.

“What we’re seeking here would not have any such restriction,” Stockwell said. “There’s nothing that goes along with this that would in any way restrict any landowner’s work. So I just want to make that very clear as you think about this.”