More Public Land Means More Money for Schools

By Beacon Staff

As a volunteer board member and fundraising chair of the Whitefish Legacy Partners (WLP), and CEO of the Sportsman & Ski Haus, a corporate sponsor of the Whitefish Trail, I have firsthand knowledge of how projects such as the Whitefish Legacy Lands conservation transactions benefit our schools, our children and the local economy.

Don’t be confused by any negative rhetoric. The money being raised for the current conservation transactions means more revenue than ever for the Whitefish School Trust Lands.

Through numerous public meetings, fundraising events, cooperative partners, and volunteer hours, the WLP and city of Whitefish have 19 miles of world-class trail on the ground and are currently working to secure 2,500 acres of lands for permanent public access in the treasured areas of Beaver Lake and Spencer Mountain.

At a recent meeting of the Montana Land Board, the state’s top officials reviewed appraisals for full market value and approved the minimum bid for the first conservation transaction on the Whitefish Legacy Lands project, totaling nearly $3 million for Montana schools and kids. Two additional conservation transactions are set to be approved by the Montana Land Board in 2012, generating an additional $4 million dollars – that is nearly $7 million for the school trust.

That $7 million is a big bonus on top of traditional revenue streams utilized by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), such as timber sales, cabin leases and recreation leases. This revenue combined will really help Montana’s schools and kids, as well as secure permanent public access to quality recreation experiences by buying off development rights, creating a win-win for everyone.

The local economy is another beneficiary of these investments. According to the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, out-of-state visitors to Flathead County spent $274 million dollars in 2010. Over 400,000 visitors came to Whitefish and 56 percent of them came to bicycle and hike. Conservation of our surrounding lands and projects such as the Whitefish Trail system will continue to benefit our local economy for generations to come.

Area residents benefit, too. We have been hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, swimming and walking our dogs on these lands for generations. Projects such as Whitefish Legacy Lands ensure the local community will continue to enjoy access to quality recreation in thriving forests with uncluttered views, while providing prime wildlife habitat and clean water.

There is no doubt in my mind that these conservation transactions are an investment in our children’s and grandchildren’s education, our economic future and our quality of life. Please join us by making an annual Whitefish Trail “Friend or Family” donation, becoming a corporate sponsor and/or volunteering. For more information, visit whitefishlegacy.org or call 862-3880.

Mike Gwiazdon is the CEO of Sportsman & Ski Haus

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