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Trail project looks to revitalize historic Holbrook Overlook

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | July 7, 2021 1:00 AM

Once a widely used site with its expansive views of the entire Flathead Valley, the Holbrook Overlook has faded since Big Mountain Road was moved more than a decade ago.

Whitefish Legacy Partners, the nonprofit behind the Whitefish Trail, is on the precipice of breaking ground to develop its next section of trail and restore the historic Holbrook Overlook to become a frontcountry recreation destination.

Located on the Flathead National Forest, Holbrook is planned to include 3 and a half miles of loop trails, an accessible interpretive loop with a view of Whitefish Lake, picnic tables and educational kiosks. The overlook is located just above WLP’s current Big Mountain Trailhead.

Margosia Jadkowski, program director for WLP, says Holbrook will be similar to the popular Lion Mountain Trailhead in that it will provide quick recreation access from town with various opportunities for different recreational activity. The natural topography of the spot allows for overlooks and terraces on the natural benches.

“It will be a great destination to walk your dog or for beginning mountain bikers or for people coming to and from Whitefish Mountain Resort,” she said. “It has beautiful views.”

The Holbrook area was logged last year as the first step in the Flathead Forest’s Taylor Hellroaring Project that includes forest management, fire mitigation and habitat improvements with recreational development opportunities.

Tad Wehunt, of the Flathead National Forest, says Holbrook is an area that has fallen into disarray and most people aren’t even aware of its existence.

“It will be fun to get it back on the map and the fact that it can be part of a larger piece of the chain for the Whitefish Trail is great,” he said. “The Forest Service as it looks to build new trails has been suggested to enter into agreements with groups like Whitefish Legacy Partners to help maintain trails. There really isn’t a better partner than Legacy Partners.”

The Taylor Hellroaring Project includes plans for other segments of trail and planned future sections connecting the Whitefish Trail from Holbrook over Hellroaring Creek to Smith Lake.

“The Taylor Hellroaring plans other trails along the Whitefish Face that will extend routes to the trail and Holbrook is an awesome piece of that bigger project,” Wehunt said. “The community engagement on this has been awesome and this will be a resource for the community. It’s great for the public and it’s great for public land.”

A small portion of the Whitefish Trail at Beaver Lakes is on Forest Service land, but this is the first time WLP is working with the Forest Service on a major project.

Alan Myers-Davis, director of development for WLP, says more than five years in the works the project has created a new partnership between WLP and the Forest Service.

“This is a huge milestone for us,” he said. “The Forest Service wants recreation and they’re excited to have us as a partner. This is about forever access.”

Holbrook historically was a scenic area with a picnic site, but after the Big Mountain Road was moved in 2008 the spot has largely gone unutilized.

Plans for the project include a new 40-car parking lot, creating trail loops, but also adding picnic tables and benches providing for day use opportunities. The design incorporates the rock from the original overlook and includes a section of accessible interpretive trail.

Heidi Van Everen, executive director of WLP, says folks who have lived here a long time remember the overlook.

“We want to bring it back to life and we think it’s going to be hugely popular,” she said. “We want to create a really great asset with amazing views. It has an open feeling where your kids can run along the loops of the trail and you can see them. It’s a neat experience that we don’t have elsewhere.”

WLP expects to break ground at Holbrook this month, and the trail and amenities are expected to be ready in 2022.

Private donations for the Holbrook project have come from Paul and Wendy Faganel and Rick and Sue Williams. Grants have also come in the form of $75,000 from the Montana Recreational Trails Program, $25,000 from the National Forest Foundation’s Summer of Trails Grant, $10,000 from Flathead County Resource Advisory Council and $10,000 from the U.S. National Forest 10-Year Trails Stewardship Challenge.

Funds are still needed for the project, and WLP will be raising funds during the Great Fish Challenge with the Whitefish Community Foundation this summer.

The last major trail section WLP completed was in 2018 in Haskill Basin with the Reservoir and Big Mountain trailheads. The first section of the Whitefish Trail opened in 2010 at Lion Mountain.

The Holbrook Overlook has been designed to stand on its own, but also eventually to serve as a starting point for longer hikes on the trail to Hellroaring Basin and to Smith Lake.

WLP continues to plan for other conservation and recreation efforts, including continuing to work on the proposed 480 acres of conservation at Smith Lake and a permanent easement for the trail.

The Whitefish Trail contains 43 miles of trail accessed through 14 trailheads, but WLP continues to work on the goal to Close the Loop by creating a 55-mile recreational loop around the greater Whitefish area. While also planning for future trail maintenance, WLP continues has set goal of completing the loop by 2030.

For more information, visit https://www.whitefishlegacy.org/

History of Holbrook

The Flathead National Forest developed the Holbrook Overlook in the late 1970s as a picnic area and scenic overlook. It was previously private land but became part of the Flathead Forest through a land exchange.

The overlook was dedicated in memory of James Leroy Holbrook, according to a history of the site compiled by Becky Smith-Powell.

James Holbrook died in a car accident in 1967 at the age of 35. He moved to Whitefish in 1961 with his wife Diane and son, and they lived in a home on Big Mountain where he was a ski instructor and examiner for Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association. He also worked at the Whitefish Lake Golf Club during the summer season.

A memorial fund was set up through the Whitefish Ski Club in his memory with donations collected to fund the overlook.

The overlook made an appearance in the 1993 family film “Beethoven 2nd.” The movie was filmed in and around the Flathead Valley including at the overlook site and locations in Glacier National Park.

photo

Whitefish Lake can be seen from the Holbrook Overlook. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)