Whitefish included as part of governor’s recreation plan

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A hiker relaxes at the Skyles Lake Overlook on the Whitefish Trail. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake file)

The Whitefish Trail project got a nod in the most recent update to the governor’s comprehensive outdoors plan.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock recently announced a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan for 2020-2024, which will provide a framework for identifying trends, issues and challenges related to the state’s outdoor recreation and natural resources in the next five years.

The plan sets out to achieve five goals, which include: promote outdoor recreation opportunities for all Montanans; enhance public access to outdoor recreation resources and facilities; support economic vitality of communities and state; improve quality of life through outdoor recreation experiences; adapt outdoor recreation for a changing environment; and honor Montana’s outdoor legacy.

Whitefish Legacy Partners’ Whitefish Trail get a mention in the first goal of the plan for the partnerships in 2015 between the City of Whitefish, Trust for Public Land, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber and more for the conservation easement securing Haskill Basin.

The easement protects Haskill Basin for wildlife habitat, drinking water protection and public recreation, the last of which led to trail easements and a 5.5-mile trail addition to the Whitefish Trail loop.

Alan Myers-Davis, director of development at Legacy Partners, said it’s nice to see Whitefish recognized for coming together on a project that helps and opens up public lands.

“We’re all trying to accomplish the same thing, increased access to public lands, including stewardship, conservation and all that. It’s the partnerships that make projects unique, and we’re unique in that we’ve made amazing partnership with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation [and others],” Myers-Davis said. “I think we are looked at as an example of how communities can garner that broad community support and tackle fundraising challenges.”

Diane Conradi, founder of the Montana Access Project, said the Whitefish Trail is “absolutely” seen as a model for others across the state.

“It combines good planning and design, good partnerships, good construction methods and good community support to make sure that it stays maintained and is designed in a way that’s good for the environment and good for the community,” Conradi said. “It is a model, for the way it’s been located on public and private lands and the way it’s maintained.”

According to the report, outdoor recreation generates $7.1 billion in consumer spending per year, and accounts for about 5% of Montana’s Gross Domestic Product.

Conradi called the outdoor recreation document a “roadmap” for the state as the outdoor recreation industry continues to boom.

States and municipalities have been creating offices of outdoor recreation and other planning bodies to deal with increased tourism and outdoor recreation, and Conradi says while the growth in these areas has been strong, there’s likely to be a ceiling.

“I think it’s been a little bit of the Wild West, and it think there is going to be a ceiling,” she said. “We’re starting to see the need for more maintenance on the infrastructure, we’re starting to see overcrowding in Glacier and Yellowstone. We’re seeing wildlife and habitat conflicts in unmanaged and sensitive areas. We’re seeing a change in land use patterns with technology like apps where people can just upload lines on a map regardless of if it’s public property. We’re going to have to look at how we manage and sustain that industry.”

The outdoor recreation plan is required from every state to be eligible for Land and Water Conservation Funds. Since 1965, Montana has received over $38 million from this federally funded program supporting outdoor recreation projects in Montana communities. Montana State Parks administers the stateside LWCF for Montana.

The release of the plan comes on the heels of a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that shows Montana is a national leader in outdoor recreation, coming in second in the nation for percentage of GDP, at 5.1%, tied to the outdoor recreation economy.

“It’s no secret that Montana is an incredible place to live, work, play and raise a family. The quality of life that our state offers is second to none, with unparalleled access to world class recreational opportunities,” Bullock said in a prepared release. “The plan addresses how we, as a state, can protect and enhance the outdoor recreation assets that sustain our economy and our livelihoods and support opportunities for residents and visitors alike.”

The 2020-2024 outdoor recreation plan can be found at cfc.umt.edu.

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