South Hills

south-hills

Ranches meet residences and share in the neighborly bounty of their lookout from the South Hills.

The elevation gain on Missoula’s south side is a distinguishing geographic border separating the Missoula Valley from the Bitterroot Valley. Residents of the South Hills Neighborhood have the advantage of living upon the hillside with views of both Missoula and the jagged and dramatic peaks of the Bitterroots as well. Although locals call it a hill, South Hills residents themselves are on a mountain that climbs to a good 6,000 feet at its tree topped summit. You’ll also hear the area referred to as Moose Can Gully, a name with several different interpretations behind it. Up here, there’s a definite line where residential development stops and open space begins. Historically, these hills were dedicated to the agricultural trade with excellent sunshine and moisture from a mix of weather systems colliding between the two valleys. And well before that, these hills were the shallows of Glacial Lake Missoula that created the flat valley below. Today, South Hills neighbors are happily above water, enjoying the hallmark sunshine and expansive views, as well as the convenience of having everything Missoula has to offer on the valley floor.

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When you look up at the South Hills, you’ll see a down-to-earth neighborhood on the mountainside.

south-hills-live-hereIf you drive west on 39th Street, you will pass many homes and businesses, built in the architectural styles of our modern era. But there is one structure that stands out as a throwback to an earlier time. A large red barn sits on the corner of 39th and Gharrett and serves as an unofficial gateway into the South Hills Neighborhood. It also serves as a reminder to those who live and visit here that this is part of Missoula’s farming and ranching heritage. There are several ranches still in operation in the South Hills – the Line and the Rimel ranches among them. These family names are woven throughout Missoula history, a part of the rich tapestry of this city. Their large land holdings and active participation in preserving Missoula’s open spaces has helped protect portions of the South Hills from development. Wildlife and native flora remain untouched in these protected areas even in this rather large neighborhood. This feature is something all neighbors can take pride in.

Trails connect neighbors with the open land. The Ravenwood Trail links Gharrett and Meadowwood Lane, leading walkers under the canopy of tall ponderosa pines. Hawthorns, willows, and aspen also grace the landscape. Of course, whitetail deer are a common sight throughout the neighborhood, but birders can also look for mountain grouse, Hungarian partridge, or the often-elusive sign of springtime in the Rockies – a mountain bluebird. South Hills neighbors pitch in to clean up, maintain, and improve the trails that are such an integral part of their hilltop community.

south-hills-live-here-2For more spirited competition, there is a disc golf course located at the top of Gharrett. Events at Chief Charlo Elementary School also bring neighbors together. The school sits atop an open precipice offering some of the best views in the neighborhood, which hopefully aren’t too distracting for the students. The school is named for the Salish leader, Chief Charlo, who is best known for his brave resistance to forced relocation from the Bitterroot Valley to Montana’s Flathead Valley in the late 1800s. In the winter months when they’re not in school, the South Hills is a child’s wonderland for sledding. Even after Gharrett Street, one of Missoula’s favorite sledding hills, was paved, kids in the South Hills have plenty of downhill areas to run speed trials.  Golfing residents also live between two of Missoula’s golf courses – Highlands and Linda Vista. Of course their prime location near Russell, Reserve, and 39th Streets at the bottom of the hill provides easy routes to almost anything in town or outdoor recreation options outside of Missoula as well.

The vantage point of the South Hills makes it an ideal place for those who enjoy the breathing room and a feeling of being just a little bit closer to that big Montana sky. Establishing a good balance between neighborhood and nature, the South Hills rise to meet the diverse interests of its residents.

It’s true. Most Missoulians standing at what was once the bottom of Glacial Lake Missoula will casually motion towards the south end of town and say something like, “and those are the South Hills.” It seems a fairly obvious name for the area. In reality though, the neighborhood has another name too, one that is much more fun to say and just as entertaining to interpret. Some say that Moose Can Gully is named for a former ranch in the area, but then how did that ranch get its name? History buffs and Missoulians who like to pass on local lore have a few other ideas on where the name came from. For example, “Moose Can” might be an abbreviation for Moose Canyon. There’s also a strange link between an antiquated method hunters used for moose calling that involved a tin can. To read more about the Moose Can Gully name, click here.

Because it’s known as the South Hills to most, people often forget that the proper name for the 6,000-foot “hill” is actually Mount Dean Stone. But who is Dean Stone – an early rancher, a local climber? The man who has a mountain named after him actually staked his claim to fame in the writing business of all places. Dean Stone was one of the earliest editors of the Missoulian and the first Dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism. Today, in addition to one of Missoula’s most noticeable geographic features, an annual lecture series sponsored by the Missoulian is also named for Dean Stone.

Ranches and farms, particularly in western Montana, may be privately owned land, but the benefit they offer to all is the preservation of open space. Longtime landowners in the South Hills, the Rimels, Lines, and the Hayden family wished to protect the open space that supports wildlife, uninterrupted views, and their own way of life from future development, so that’s exactly what they did. In conjunction with Five Valleys Land Trust and through the City of Missoula Open Space Bond, the families jointly provided 1,000 plus acres into an easement that will be left untouched in perpetuity. Read more about this important initiative here.

Many of us remember the various ways we kept up on the comings and goings of our hometowns and neighborhoods. Whether it was through the grapevine, a community group, or the weekly newspaper, we had a resource for information and an outlet to share our thoughts. The LiveMissoula! neighborhood blogs revisit that concept in a new way by providing an open, online destination where neighborhood stories can be posted and shared. To contribute to the discussion, we encourage you to add your comments. If you have an idea for a story, contact the Neighborhood Volunteer Advocate listed under each neighborhood’s Fast Facts pages.