Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking for public input on a proposed extension of the bike path along the Whitefish River.
The City of Whitefish is proposing to construct an extension of its trail creating a 4-foot wide bike and walking path along the river, connecting Kay Beller Park and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Trail.
Currently, the path running north along the river stops just under the Second Street bridge at Kay Beller Park.
Under the proposal, construction would include the trail, signage to direct cyclists to walk bikes and signs to indicate trail closures, all running along the Whitefish River before intersecting with the bike path along the railroad.
The connection was identified in the city’s 2017 Connect Whitefish Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.
The addition would impact 370 linear feet of the river bank on the shoreline adjacent to the Riverbend Homes Condominiums.
Kenneth Breidinger, Fisheries Biologist for FWP, said the case is a unique one as far as shoreline permits go.
In general, he says, FWP doesn’t like to approve trail projects running adjacent to rivers.
“This is a tough one. We typically don’t permit trails that run lengthwise along the riverbank, we prefer to see them up and out of the way where they have no effect on streambanks. This one is very different, but it’s also a unique situation where it’s the last piece in this part of their trail plan,” he said.
The construction also wouldn’t be negatively altering a previously pristine area either, he noted.
“That shoreline where they’re putting it is right between the river and condos, so it is right on the streambank, and part of it does go below the mean high water mark too. That area right now is already impacted by having the condos or apartment buildings so close, it’s certainly not in its natural state,” he said.
The environmental assessment offers a number of alternatives, including no action, switchbacks with retaining walls, helical piers and a boardwalk along the river.
According to the environment assessment, “permanent impacts on the physical and human environment as a result of the proposed project are anticipated to be minor and discountable.”
The assessment also notes that when considered over the longterm, the project would positively impact the public safety of pedestrians and cyclists as well as increase the quality of life by boosting recreational opportunities in the community.
Breidinger says FWP’s decision will likely come within a month or two after the comment period ends, with the outcome being either approval, approval with conditions or denial.
The trail is proposed to be built in fall of 2019, if approved.
Copies of the draft environmental assessment are available online at http://fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/, as well as at the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 1 headquarters, 490 N. Meridian, Kalispell, and at the state headquarters in Helena, 1420 E. Sixth Ave.
Public comment will be accepted until 5 p.m. on May 31 and can be mailed to Breidinger, 490 North Meridian Rd, Kalispell, MT 59901; or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.