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Forest Service Studies Blacktail Mountain Road Project
Proponents say road should be paved to the top of the ski resort
A sign points the way to Blacktail Mountain Ski Area in Lakeside. - Beacon file photo
A U.S. Forest Service environmental analysis could pave the way for road improvements on the Blacktail Mountain Road in the coming years. The 14-mile road connects Lakeside with the top of Blacktail Mountain and the Blacktail Mountain Ski Area.

Steve Spencer, general manager of Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, said paving the entire road would be beneficial to the entire community, not just his business. Currently, only the first 1.6 miles are paved.

“To have all of those recreational opportunities accessible right out our backdoor would be great for Lakeside,” Spencer said.

According to Forest Service documents, the project would cost between $9.1 million and $11.3 million and be funded through federal highway funds. Last year, Flathead County, the Montana Department of Transportation and several federal agencies announced they had secured funding for four local road projects, including $1.1 million for paving the road from the end of the pavement up to mile marker 3.4. Meanwhile, $300,000 was committed to completing an environmental assessment of the entire road, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act. That piece of the project will take place this summer.

Next winter, federal and local agencies could begin planning the next phases of the project, with the hopes of laying down more asphalt during the summer of 2015. However, according to Flathead National Forest staff officer Gary Danczyk, there is no guarantee the funds will be available to finish the entire road. However, he added that maintaining the Blacktail road is one of the Forest Service’s top priorities.

“It’s not a bad road now, but we want to make improvements because it’s a very popular road,” he said. “There are no guarantees with the budget because there are a lot of projects competing for the same small pot of money.”

The environmental assessment completed this year will also determine whether the final segment of the road, the last six miles connecting the ski area, should also be paved. Spencer, the general manager, said it makes sense to finish the road and has written letters to Montana’s delegation in Washington, D.C. seeking support for the project. David Fetveit, president of the Lakeside/Somers Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Lakeside Community Council, said it would be short-sighted to only pave it part way.

Blacktail Mountain Road on Aug. 19, 2013. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

“If you’re going to pave Blacktail Mountain Road, let’s do the whole thing, let’s go to the top,” he said. “There are some amazing recreational opportunities back there (and) this is all about the public getting access to public lands.”

The Blacktail Mountain Road was built 1958 to reach a U.S. Airforce radar site on top of the mountain. The radar was turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration in 1975 when the air base in Lakeside closed. The radar is still in use today.
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Dillon Tabish
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Molly Priddy
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