MISSOULA – The University of Montana will soon begin work to make the famed M Trail on Mount Sentinel more sustainable for generations to come.
To prevent erosion and ensure the trail can continue to responsibly serve more than 1,000 hikers per day, UM will begin to reroute section 11 of the M Trail in early June. This work will impact two of the 13 switchbacks that lead to the M, and the entire trail will remain open to the public throughout the effort.
The trail reroute is part of a multiyear plan to rehabilitate the M Trail, which includes investing resources from a 2022 Recreational Trail Grant that will pay for vegetation rehabilitation around the M, as well as 100 additional railroad ties that were donated to UM by Montana Rail Link to prevent large-scale erosion.
The driving force behind recent upgrades to the M Trail is retired UM Professor Steve Gaskill, who led the effort to redesign the hiking trail and has fundraised for many improvements.
“UM is so grateful for Steve’s leadership through this enormous project,” said Marilyn Marler, who manages UM’s Natural Areas Program.
Members of the public interested in volunteering to help improve the M Trail can email MTrailVolunteer@gmail.com.
Additionally, to support prairie restoration and promote local biodiversity and wildlife habitat, UM employees will spot spray invasive plants on the M Trail in May and June to eradicate spotted knapweed, leafy spurge, dalmatian toadflax and other invasive species. These invasive plants crowd out Montana wildflowers and bunchgrasses, becoming a serious conservation threat to Mount Sentinel.
“For 22 years we have been spot spraying Mount Sentinel, and it looks better and better each year,” Marler said. “We also have all of the insect biocontrols released for those invasive plants, and we hand pull and seed with native plants when we can. It is so gratifying to see the return of the native prairies on UM land up on the mountain.”
To help identify invasive species on Mount Sentinel, UM will once again employ weed sniffing dogs trained by Working Dogs for Conservation. These canines detect seedlings of dyer’s woad and can prevent large-scale breakouts of this new invader to Montana.
“UM was one of the first sites in Montana to use search dogs to find this destructive plant,” Marler said. “But now the dogs are used at several infestations around the state. The idea is to find every single seedling each year, and kill it. If eight years go by with no new plants, then dyer’s woad is considered eradicated, which is a big relief.”
UM is also working to hire “M Trail rangers” for part-time summer work. Email Marler at email@example.com if you are interested.
“We want to have a friendly presence on the M Trail to explain all the work going on, answer questions about flowers, take family photos for tourists and more,” said UM Associate Vice President Paula Short.
The M Trail was established in 1908 by UM students, and the .75-mile trail on UM property has been continuously maintained by the University ever since.
Contact: Marilyn Marler, UM natural areas manager, 406-544-7189, firstname.lastname@example.org.