State Approves Whitefish Land Exchange

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Board of Land Commissioners approved a land exchange Monday that will push forward an extensive trails project in the Whitefish area.

The Land Board, which includes the state’s top five elected officials, unanimously voted to approve a proposal to swap 570 acres of Whitefish philanthropist Michael Goguen’s land in the Lupfer Road area with 435 acres of state land. Local nonprofits and government officials say the move will boost public access, recreational opportunities and land conservation on state trust lands near Whitefish, as well as increase revenue on the properties.

In an agreement with the city of Whitefish and the non-profit group Flathead Gateway Partners, Goguen will also donate $3.1 million to the public-private “A Trail Runs Through It” partnership for construction of the trail project and conservation of state lands.

In a press release, Steve Thompson, member of Flathead Gateway Partners and chair of the city-appointed “A Trail Runs Through It” steering committee, called Goguen’s contribution an outstanding example for future land exchanges and conservation projects, encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. “Mr. Goguen is a trailblazer, literally,” he said. “He has been a gracious and community-spirited partner as we have crafted an innovative model to promote land conservation and public access.”

Both the land exchange and the “A Trail Runs Through It” project implement strategies developed by dozens of local stakeholders through the Whitefish Area School Trust Lands Neighborhood Plan, according to a press release from the FGP. The state trust lands affected by the neighborhood land-use and trail plans include Spencer Lake, Beaver Lake/Skyles, Stillwater, Swift Creek, Haskill Basin, and Happy Valley/KM areas, surrounding the community of Whitefish.

At its meeting, the Land Board determined that the exchange lands offered by Goguen were of equal or greater value to the state, generated equal or greater income to the trust, provided more acreage, consolidated state lands, enhanced access and had potential for long-term appreciation based on appraisal and economic data provided by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, according to FGP.

They also heard from residents of Whitefish who reported on the other community projects that are taking place under the neighborhood plan, such as efforts at reducing the risk of catastrophic fire on the state forest lands surrounding the Whitefish community.

In a prepared statement addressing the Land Board, Goguen said, “One of the reasons we’ve been so successful with the trail and the land exchange is that the vision I have for where I live is the same as the community’s, and the state’s.”

Besides the $3.1 million in funding, Goguen’s contribution also includes placing an easement for the “A Trail Runs Through It” across his private property and to construct and maintain a 3-mile section of the public trail from Two Bear Road to Beaver Lake Road. The “A Trail Runs Through It” Steering Committee agreed to leverage the funds to raise additional funds when possible, FGP said. The contribution stipulates at least $1 million dollars to acquire easements on state lands to establish permanent trail corridors and to conserve ecologically and culturally significant lands.

The “Trail Runs Through It” project, a priority of the Whitefish School Trust Neighborhood Plan, was spearheaded by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Whitefish and the non-profit organization Flathead Gateway Partners. The partnership completed the trail master plan in 2006 and the city of Whitefish signed a 10-year land use license with the DNRC in 2007. The City and Flathead Gateway Partners recently signed an additional MOU when the City Council re-appointed a steering committee consisting of city representatives and Flathead Gateway Partners. The steering committee includes Diane Conradi, Steve Thompson, Karl Cozad and Nancy Woodruff (Nick Palmer is an alternate).

For more information on the “A Trail Runs Through It” project and the land exchange, go to www.trailrunsthroughit.org.