LAKESIDE – Allen Himsl has the community support to turn his family’s 62 acres on Flathead Lake into a state park.
Now he needs the funding.
State lawmakers, county commissioners and officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have all expressed enthusiasm for the prospect of creating a state park on the Himsl property, located a few miles south of Lakeside at Deep Bay. But the $15 million price tag is daunting, particularly for FWP, the agency that would be in charge of managing the park.
Dave Landstrom, Regional Park Director for FWP, said he believes the property is ideal for a recreational area, but his agency can’t afford it. He said FWP has a $10 million acquisition fund, which all of the state’s regional offices share, but only a small portion of that would go toward one single project.
“If it were $5 million I think we would have a starting point,” Landstrom said. “I wish we had an acquisition fund that could handle ($15 million) because there’s no question that’s an excellent site.”
Himsl and his wife Linda, in conjunction with the Lakeside Parks Advisory Committee, discussed the state park proposal at a community forum on May 12 at Lakeside Community Chapel. Of the more than 50 people who attended, only a handful were vocally against the proposal.
Flathead County commissioners Gary Hall and Dale Lauman attended the meeting and took a tour of the property afterward, as did state Republican lawmakers Mark Blasdel and Verdell Jackson. They all expressed support for the project, which is significant: If Himsl were unable to find money from partnerships or private sources, seeking an appropriation at the next state Legislature might be the best option.
Blasdel stressed that it’s vital to first secure widespread local support “to turn heads” at the Legislature.
“I think it’s a beautiful piece of property, if we can get the support and the backing,” Blasdel said. “You’ve got to start at the grassroots level.”
The property is nestled off U.S. Highway 93, with a sloping ridge shielding the beach from the noise and sights of the highway. Much of the 767 feet of beachfront along Crag Moor, also known as Deep Bay, consists of small pebbles and sand, valuable commodities on the often rocky Flathead Lake shore. The beach is adjacent to 100 feet of county lakefront property.
Himsl said his father, the late Matt Himsl, who was a state legislator for 24 years, long expressed a desire to turn the land into a state park, as opposed to developing it.
“We have been approached by developers,” Himsl said, adding that he has been offered substantially more than $15 million. “But really the family’s desire is to see it as a park.”
Hall said he is willing to do whatever is necessary to make the proposal a reality. The county has a deed to the one main road that cuts through the property.
“I feel this is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Hall said. “I hope we don’t miss it.”
Himsl said he understands it’s not easy for the state to come up with $15 million, but he said he would be willing to finance the park for the first several years while the state allocates sufficient funds.
“We’re not under duress – we’re not under any financial responsibility to keep the land or sell it,” Himsl said.
There are currently six individual parks – or units – that make up the Flathead Lake State Park system, three of which, counting Wild Horse Island, are on the western side. At 62 acres, the park would be comparable in size to Wayfarers State Park across the lake south of Bigfork.
The May 12 meeting was intended to gauge the level of support for the proposal and start the process of getting public officials involved. The handful of opponents, mostly neighbors, expressed concern over increased traffic on their roads, the quality of the beach and water, and the usability of the land, suggesting the property isn’t worth its price tag. One person also pointed out the proximity to nearby West Shore State Park.
Landstrom said even if funding was secured, there are always concerns about angering the neighbors, who he said have legitimate cause to be frustrated.
“Gone are the days where you buy a remote site with no neighbors,” he said. “Nowadays those acquisitions are really, really challenging.”
At the meeting, Lakeside Parks Advisory Committee Vice President John Ulrich emphasized the importance of jumping on the opportunity now before the Himsls are forced to look elsewhere.
“That property will not remain undeveloped,” he said. “It is one of the most beautiful pieces of property in Lakeside that I’ve looked at.”
Landstrom said he plans on taking another tour of the property and will continue talking with Himsl. He wants to see a state park as much as anybody, saying that he applauds the Himsls for working through this process rather than settling for development.
“We’re still listening,” Landstrom said.
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