A state board Monday authorized buying 160 acres to establish a state park and wildlife area on Flathead Lake’s north shore, a place that is on a Montana priority list for conservation.
With the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission’s approval of the deal, authorization by the state Land Board is the last remaining step for the purchase of land on the north shore about 10 miles southeast of Kalispell. Cost to the state would be $1.8 million, with another $100,000 or so coming from donations and other sources, state parks director Joe Maurier said.
The acquisition would be a significant conservation step in a place with a lot of development pressure, Maurier said.
The state’s 2005 Comprehensive Fish and Wildlife Strategy placed Flathead Lake’s north shore in the “greatest conservation need” category. If the state does not buy the 160 acres, a developer eventually might, notes a Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks environmental assessment.
Most of the money for the purchase would come from Access Montana, a $10 million program approved by the 2007 Legislature. Gov. Brian Schweitzer requested the program as a way to acquire lands for parks and fishing access amid population growth and rising land prices. Access Montana purchases include a Yellowstone River ranch near Pompeys Pillar east of Billings, and a Marias River ranch southwest of Shelby.
The north-shore park would be on about 25 acres. The remaining land would be managed for wildlife habitat and compatible uses, including hunting.
Sightings of elk, mountain lions and bears in the area have been reported. Flathead Lake’s north end is a major resting and feeding area for migratory waterfowl and other birds, including bald eagles.
The property, between Montana 82 and a waterfowl area managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is mostly agricultural and includes about 10 acres of wetlands.
Maurier said six of the 52 parks administered by Fish, Wildlife and Parks are at Flathead Lake, including one on Wild Horse Island. The Flathead parks operate at or above capacity during the summer.
Maurier said starting the work to make the 25 acres into a north-shore park with camping and trails would depend on availability of money.
The state park system’s chief sources of funding are a portion of the interest earned on Montana’s coal-tax trust fund; a portion of the state tax on lodging; a $4 fee that is attached to vehicle-registration charges and provides admission to parks at no additional cost; and fees paid for park amenities such as camping.
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