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Forest considers recreation, guiding permits

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | April 28, 2021 1:00 AM

The Flathead National Forest is accepting public comment on 19 different recreation events and temporary outfitting and guiding activities that are expected to take place on public lands this year.

The events and activities would “provide a spectrum of opportunities like livery services, trail running and races, guided mountain biking, bike races, motorized tours, among others,” a media release on the projects states.

Seventeen of the proposals are for single-year permits while two are multi-year, though all activities would unfold within the May to October timeframe.

The first multi-year permit comes from Whitefish Legacy Partners, the city of Whitefish and the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce. The groups have asked to host an ultra-marathon on Oct. 2 that will begin and end in Depot Park in Whitefish, and will include a maximum of 400 participants, in addition spectators and volunteers. Part of the application notes the 50-kilometer course will be “well marked with temporary flagging and signs” and that impact to public trail users will be “negligible as runners will be spread out over the 50k course.”

The other multi-year permit is for the Foy’s to Blacktail Marathon. The one-day event would be held in September, would include up to 100 participants and would wind through approximately 13 miles of Forest Service lands near Lakeside.

The single-year permit applications available for public review vary widely.

In the Tally Lake, Glacier View and Swan Lake Districts, the Adventure Cycling Association has proposed 10 guided bike tours across the Flathead National Forest that would begin in June and ending in August. Two of those tours would involve 42 participants, while the remaining eight would involve 10 to 14.

Other bike-related proposals include an event described as the “Last Best Ride.” According to an overview of the application, the one-day event would occur Aug. 22 and would be partially located on the Tally Lake and Hungry Horse/Glacier View Ranger Districts. The event would begin and end at Depot Park in Whitefish and would include no more than 550 participants.

Other proposals available up public comment center around guided hikes and runs.

The Montana Academy has proposed taking its students on day-use hiking trips on various trails within the Flathead National Forest system from May 1 to Oct. 31, while Alpine Running Guides has proposed guided running trips that would include 10 to 14 participants each and would occur on the Danny On trail and elsewhere.

The remaining proposals primarily involve ATV tours, e-bike and e-dirt bike tours, and shuttle and livery services. Snowbike Nation, for example, has proposed guided e-bike, e-dirt bike and dirt bike trips on the Hungry Horse, Glacier View, Tally Lake and Swan Lake Ranger Districts. The company has requested 200 service days, beginning May 1, with tours to include no more than six clients.

A NEWS release on the proposed events explains the Forest Service authorizes outfitters and guides to provide specialized knowledge, skills, experience and equipment that general recreationists might not otherwise possess.

In a prepared statement, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele said “Interest in outdoor recreation continues to grow in our area and we are excited to see so many people getting out and enjoying their national forest. Our permit holders provide an amazing opportunity for connecting people with nature and are great partners in offering the public a wide variety of recreation opportunities.”

The Forest Service issues permits for these activities based on a “user day,” which means that one person on a guided trip would be counted as one user day. Ten people on a one-day trip would be counted as ten user days, for example. All proposed uses would occur on existing roads, trails, facilities, recreation sites, or in areas where such activities are currently allowed.

Based upon preliminary analysis, the agency anticipates the proposed projects fall within the Forest Service category of actions that may be excluded in either an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS), and that no extraordinary circumstances exist which would preclude use of this category. Scoping comments, along with additional review will determine whether these projects can be categorically excluded.

Additional information on the proposals and how to comment on each project may be found on the Flathead National Forest website. According to the news release, the agency will update the website with additional information about the status of each permit as it is reviewed by specialists and any permits are issued. The public must submit their comments by May 12, 2021.