Input sought for Smith Lake recreation future

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Whitefish Legacy Partners is looking for input on how to improve recreation access at Smith Lake. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

Smith Lake and the Swift Creek trail area are popular destinations for locals and visitors hoping to get outside, but Whitefish Legacy Partners wants to know how to make them better.

WLP last month held an open house to seek input on future improvements for the Smith Lake area, asking visitors to rank different options by placing sticky notes on a map and getting feedback on why they recreate at Smith Lake.

WLP is looking to permanently protect 800 acres of local open land for wildlife habitat, watershed protection, public access on the Whitefish Trail and sustainable forest management. Input is needed to establish the conservation, education and recreation priorities at Smith Lake, with trail construction potentially coming as early as next year.

Whitefish Legacy Partners plans to purchase a public recreation use easement for the 480 acres directly surrounding the lake from the state Department of Natural Resources. The Stillwater State Forest of the DNRC earlier this year approved the environmental assessment for the proposal, as well as, for WLP plans to connect the trail from Beaver Lakes to Swift Creek and convert the existing Swift Creek trail land use license to a permanent easement.

The easement fits within WLP’s larger Close the Loop project, which seeks to connect trails on protected land surrounding Whitefish Lake.

Margosia Jadkowski, Program Director for WLP, said there’s a number of different additions the Smith Lake area could see.

“There’s trails, there’s day use improvements, a dock, improved access to the lake, a picnic area. They all kind of function differently, especially the trails,” she said. “We’re hoping eventually we can do them all, but I think different things appeal to different people based on how they already use and experience this landscape and what they wish they could do more of.”

Jadkowski said while trail users may disagree on a boat dock or whether one trail might connect with another, she feels pretty certain that those trail users don’t want to see $2 million homes overlooking the lake down the road.

“This is something that there really is consensus on. This is a special place that’s worth protecting,” she said.

Allison Deaver says she goes to the Smith Lake area maybe once a week throughout the summer, and she’s amazed to have such a neat access point in her backyard.

In considering the options for the lake, she says she prefers trails over docks and benches.

“I know what I don’t want to see, which is the dock. I’m just not a huge fan of day-use picnic areas if you don’t need one. Bring a sandwich and sit on a rock,” she said. “I love the idea of being able to walk around Smith Lake and connecting some of the existing trails.”

Kristy and Rick Dooling said they hop on the trail twice a week.

For them, more trails along water are preferred.

“I like this creekside trail. We’re pretty new to the area, but I don’t know if there’s any other Whitefish trails where you’re walking along a creek. I just think that sounds cool,” Kristy said.

To date, WLP has partnered with the DNRC, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co., the Flathead National Forest and others to protect 4,500 acres of land in Beaver Lakes and Haskill Basin.

For more information, visit www.whitefishlegacy.org or call 406-862-3880 or email info@whitefishlegacy.org.

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