A small, scenic fishing lake north of Troy has received a big handout to protect the land ringing its shoreline from development, due in part to a recently reauthorized federal conservation program.
The conservation deal closed after a 12-year, community-led effort brokered by The Vital Ground Foundation, a nonprofit land trust based in Missoula. The nonprofit purchased a 142-acre forested parcel on the east shore of the lake, located in Lincoln County, just two miles north of Troy.
The $1.15 million project was anchored by a $400,000 U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Spaces Program grant, and was complemented by a substantial donation from the Friends of Alvord Lake. The program originates from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress recently temporarily reauthorized for a three-year period.
Montana’s entire congressional delegation, including its two conservative Republicans, support the fund, and the lone Democrat, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, called LWCF “one of the best conservation tools around.”
“I’m pleased it’s helping outdoorsmen and women enjoy the beauty of Alvord Lake,” Tester said. “This project is a great example of how on-the-ground collaboration increases public access to Montana’s treasured places.”
The federal Community Forest and Open Space Program is administered in Montana through the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and requires involvement by either a local or tribal governmental entity or a qualified land trust in order to secure grant funding.
Angela Mallon, stewardship program manager for the Montana DNRC, sees the opportunity for the Community Forest to be a model for land stewardship.
“It’s a wonderful example of how diverse amenities which are derived from the land can be optimized through great stewardship,” Mallon said.
“Alvord Lake is one of the District’s recreational gems, in part because it is readily accessible to folks with diverse abilities,” said Kirsten Kaiser, Three Rivers District Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service.
A Community Forest ensures the public has access and that planning for the land’s future is done locally. As the qualified nonprofit acquiring the property, The Vital Ground Foundation will manage the acreage in partnership with a local stakeholder’s group that collaborated to produce a detailed Community Forest Management Plan to guide stewardship, public access, and protection of the property’s conservation values.
The property provides crucial habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, black bears, mountain lions, big game animals, Merriam’s turkey, and bobcat. The area lies within known fisher habitat and potentially within wolverine habitat as well.
Although Community Forest Program designation prohibits future subdivision and development of the parcel, active forest management will continue to be a sustaining element of the prescription for the holding, and the Libby Chapter of the Society of American Foresters, which contributed the preparation of the management plan, will continue to play a role in those activities.
“The Troy community will benefit through its continued recreational use, and by assisting with implementation of the management plan,” SAF member Russ Gautreaux said. “The conservation education component is a cornerstone of this plan and is one of the primary areas of interest for SAF.”
“This project has been the most collaborative effort that Vital Ground has ever participated in ‒ every one of our projects are conducted only with willing landowners and rely on public support, but the enthusiasm and dedication of this diverse partnership made this acquisition truly enjoyable,” Vital Ground Executive Director Ryan Lutey said. “As Vital Ground’s largest single financial investment to date, it took assistance from so many supporters, and it is perfectly fitting that the project was earmarked as the organization’s primary endeavor to commemorate our 25th Anniversary.”
In addition to the Community Forest Program grant and the landowner donation, $100,000 was provided by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which supports the acquisition of publicly accessible land in Montana to enhance public hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities and generally improve public access to public lands.