The University of Montana to Renovate Iconic ‘M’ Trail

The University of Montana to Renovate Iconic ‘M’ Trail

, In celebration of National Trails Day, June 6, 2020, the University of Montana announces that one of the most popular hiking trails in Montana is getting a makeover.  The iconic M Trail, which starts at the base of Mount Sentinel on the eastern edge of the University of Montana campus, sees up to 1000 hikers a day on a sunny weekend. In order to keep the trail in good working order, some major improvements are necessary to control erosion and improve access for users.
The ‘M’ Trail Project is a two-year plan to repair the trail.  The trail has experienced significant erosion over the past few years. Steps at the trailhead and beneath the ‘M’ need to be replaced.  It is necessary to install a retaining wall directly under the ‘M’.  The entire trail needs to be renovated and steps at each of the 11 switchbacks along the 3/4 quarter mile trail need to be redone.  In order to assure the trail is accessible and user-friendly to people of all ages who climb the steep, zigzag path to the ‘M’, this restoration project is a necessity.  
The University of Montana is actively raising money for the project, having secured grants from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Recreational Trails Program and REI, and a generous donation from Run Wild Missoula. Tony Banovich, Executive Director of Run Wild Missoula said, "The Run Wild Missoula Board of Directors was thrilled to be able to support this project. This is a trail segment that is loved by our club members and the larger Missoula community.  We strongly support the planned trail improvements and encourage others to contribute to this effort.”
A generous grant from REI was made on behalf of local REI members. Shannon Dickerson, Outdoor Programs and Market Outreach Market Coordinator, said, “REI is committed to protecting and maintaining the local trails and outdoor spaces our members love. The M Trail is among the most iconic trails in Missoula and we are proud to support the much-needed restoration work on this beloved landmark.”
Project renovations are led by Marilyn Marler, UM Natural Areas Manager, and Dr. Steve Gaskill, Professor Emeritus, Integrative Physiology and Athletic Training.  Dr. Gaskill says of the project, “One of my goals as a retired professor in Integrative Physiology and Athletic Training at the University of Montana is to continue facilitating increased physical activity by Missoula residents to improve long term community health.  The 'M' trail is an iconic Missoula landmark and possibly the most popular trail in Montana.  It simply makes sense to keep it functional, maintained and accessible."
Marler says “We had planned for a series of large community volunteer days this summer and fall, but unfortunately the covid19 crisis requires a different approach.  Instead, we are looking for small teams of volunteers, 2-4 people at a time, who are interested in taking on small projects under Dr. Gaskill’s mentorship.”
Here are some specific dates when volunteers are needed (email to RSVP):
June 12, 9-11 am. Seeking hikers who are willing to carry timbers from the trailhead to to 5th switchback. Some of the timbers can be carried by one strong person, and some will take 2 people.
June 15-16, 9-12 am both days. Seeking 3-4 strong people to help remove existing stairs at the main trailhead. Tools provided but bring gloves and wear boots
Late June and into autumn, we can accommodate small groups of friends or family members who can work on fence projects. 
“We’ll just have to be creative and celebrate National Trails Day and National Public Lands Day throughout the seasons, instead of just on their traditional dates,” said Marler.
“Hopefully by late fall we can host a modest but more traditional style volunteer day on the mountain. We look forward to that happening again, they are some of my favorite times on Mt Sentinel, “said Marler.
The University of Montana Foundation is raising money for the renovation and seeks donations from the Missoula community. To this end, an iron ranger has been installed at the base of the ‘M’ trail to collect contributions. To learn more about the project or to make an online donation, visit


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