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Collins family easement protects 672 acres on Whitefish Lake

by HEIDI DESCH
Editor | February 17, 2021 1:00 AM

From their home John and Anne Collins have a view of Whitefish Lake, and when their gaze stretches across the waters of the lake they also see the property they placed in permanent protection for future generations.

The Collins family recently finalized a conservation easement that protects 672 acres of private land along the northwest shore of the lake and adjoining Montana State School Trust Land. The property includes 1.2 miles of shoreline.

John says there have been substantial changes to Whitefish since his childhood, and even since he and his wife returned to raise their children.

“Development has brought a lot of things to Whitefish to make it the vibrant town it is today,” he said. “Particularly at the head of the lake there’s a lot of undeveloped property up here, and I think it’s great if it can be preserved.”

The Collins family settled in Whitefish in the early 1900s. John himself grew up in Whitefish and Anne visited here as a youngster. After they were married in 1964, the couple knew they’d come back to Whitefish someday.

John’s career as an insurance broker took them to New York and Minneapolis, but in 1985 they were finally able to return home to Whitefish purchasing their home on Eagle Point on the lake.

When the opportunity arose they purchased the property across the lake near Lazy Bay about 20 years ago, always with the intention of placing it in a conservation easement.

They drive their boat across the lake to enjoy the shoreline or drive around the lake to walk the property. Recreationalists have used the property for biking and hiking, and fishing in Thornburg Lake, which is part of the property.

John remembers stories of a logger who lived in a cabin on the property in the 1920s and 1930s, but other than that the property has remained largely undisturbed.

John says protecting property from development along the shoreline of Whitefish Lake is important.

“This end of the lake really is the watershed and where the town gets part of its water supply,” he said. “It’s a tremendous resource and it’s great if it can be protected and preserve some open space as more areas inevitably develop.”

“Right now the lake is in great shape and we have tremendous water quality, but overtime it’s something we can lose if we don’t make a great effort to preserve it and I think part of that is ideally in critical areas minimizing subdivision development,” he added.

The conservation easement protects both natural and scenic values and important fish and wildlife habitat associated with the property, notes The Montana Land Reliance which holds the conservation easement.

MLR Western Manager, Mark Schiltz said the project represents one of the most important conservation easements in the Flathead Valley.

“This couldn’t happen at a more important time, given the explosive growth the valley is currently experiencing,” Mark advised. “The Collins family has given a gift that will benefit Whitefish and the Flathead Valley for generations to come.”

In the early 2000s, the Collins also placed their 480-acre property in the North Fork in a conservation easement with The Montana Land Reliance. Having completed that easement before it put the idea of preserving their property on the lake on their minds.

“We really hope this easement will encourage others to do this too,” Anne said. “There’s been so many people that are excited about this.”

The Collins often spend summers watching their grandchildren, who are the sixth generation of the family to call Whitefish home, playing in the lake. Their family is happy to know that the property right across the lake is protected, they note.

The property contains nearly every species of Montana evergreen from ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and western larch, to red cedar and western hemlock. It also provides habitat for numerous species of wildlife including deer, elk, moose, wolf, lynx, and black and grizzly bear.

photo

The Collins family easement on the northwest shore of Whitefish Lake. (Photo provided)

While the conservation easement permanently protects the water quality of Whitefish Lake by prohibiting the construction of all future lakeshore homes on the property, it also helps maintain forest health by permitting responsible commercial timber harvests.

“The easement allows us to manage our timberland to promote forest health and maintain species diversity while providing important habitat for all types of wildlife,” John said.

The Montana Land Reliance is a nonprofit organization that partners with private landowners to permanently protect agricultural lands, fish and wildlife habitat and open space.