City approves easements for Whitefish Trail growth

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Whitefish City Council last week approved three trail easements that are expected to eventually allow for the construction of new segments of the Whitefish Trail north of town.

The city holds the trail easements, while Whitefish Legacy Partners will construct and maintain the trail.

Heidi Van Everen, executive director of Legacy Partners, said the easements have been donated to the trail effort. She expects that a fourth trail easement will soon be ready, and work is ongoing for the fifth and final easement needed for the trail section.

“This is will connect from the Holbrook parcel up the Big Mountain Road and toward Hellroaring Basin,” she said. “These easements are going to bring us one step closer to closing the loop of the trail.”

The trail easements approved are with the Elk Highland Homeowners’ Association, Winter Sports, Inc., and the Michelle K. Episcope 2011 Gift Trust. The section of trail will also have to pass through Flathead National Forest land and State Forest land.

Whitefish Legacy Partners announced plans for its Close the Loop campaign several years ago calling for about 20 miles of new trail to be constructed in efforts to create a loop trail around Whitefish.

Phase III of the campaign includes about four miles of trail easements on private property to connect the Big Mountain Trailhead with the existing Whitefish Trail at Smith Lake and Swift Creek.

“This is going to give us a whole new destination,” Van Everen said. “We’re going to be able to go from Big Mountain Trailhead and get up into Hellroaring and have a destination there where there will ultimately be a bridge of Hellroaring Creek.”

Legacy Partners still have two other phases to work on as part of the Close the Loop project.

Phase II of the Close the Loop plan would connect the trail from Beaver Lakes to Swift Creek, west of Whitefish Lake on state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation lands. The DNRC last year approved an environmental assessment for the planned project, which also includes a conservation easement around Smith Lake.

Phase IV of the plan involves a possible connection from the Beaver Lakes to Swift Creek trail to the Lupfer section of the trail, which begins off Highway 93 West.

Legacy Partners in 2017 constructed Phase I of the Close the Loop that connects Whitefish to Whitefish Mountain Resort with the trail section through Haskill Basin and also created the Reservoir Trailhead and the Big Mountain Trailheads.

The Whitefish Trail includes more than 43 miles of trail and 14 trailheads.

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