By Justin Franz, 7-30-12
||Caption: The Whitefish Legacy Partners is looking to raise $1 million to fund a conservation easement and land deal west of Whitefish Lake. The easement will help the non-profit group expand the trail system. - Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon
WHITEFISH – Representatives of the Montana State Land Board met with Whitefish Legacy Partners on July 26 to discuss a proposed plan, including a conservation easement and land deal, that could expand the Whitefish Trail in the coming years. Overall the plan would permanently protect nearly 2,500 acres of state-owned land west of Whitefish Lake.
Members of the nonprofit Whitefish Legacy Partners and city officials said it was critical to complete the deal in 2012 before the State Land Board members change next year. The land board is made up of the governor, the attorney general, the superintendent of public instruction, the commissioner of securities and insurance and the secretary of state.
“The timing is right because we have an administration that realizes this is good for Whitefish and the school trust,” said Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld. Money from state land deals goes toward education in Montana.
The Whitefish Legacy Partners' 2012 Legacy Lands Initiative includes three parts. The first is the creation of a public recreation and conservation easement owned by the city of Whitefish. The easement includes 1,200 acres near Beaver Lake and 280 acres near part near Skyles Lake. The second part would be a land bank transaction east of Beaver Lake, where the family of Michael Goguen would own the land and provide a permanent trail easement to the city. Goguen would also construct and maintain new sections of the Whitefish Trail.
The final part would involve the creation of a recreation and management planning area near Spencer Mountain.
According to Whitefish Legacy Partners Executive Director Heidi Van Everen, the complicated land deal will protect public access to the trails for the future, as well as to the surrounding land.
“This protects the surrounding area of the trail so it's a quality experience,” she said.
The entire land deal is expected to cost about $4 million. The nonprofit group has raised $3 million so far and Van Everen said her goal will be to raise the final portion of that before December.
“We're hoping (we can get it), but we don't know for sure,” she said. “We're hoping some big donors step up, because we have a plan and vision.”
That long-term vision is a major trail system wrapping around Whitefish Lake and connecting with Big Mountain. Currently there are 19 miles of trail and five trailheads. When and if that ever happens is unknown, Van Everen said, adding “the vision is changing as we plan things.”
The State Land Board is expected to make a decision about the proposed land deal and easement before the end of the year.
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