Council Approves Deed to Secure Whitefish Trail Access

By Beacon Staff

The Whitefish City Council unanimously voted to accept a deed of public recreation easement last week that permanently secures public access to 1,520 acres in the Beaver, Skyles and Lion Mountain areas west of town.

Dependent upon approval by the state Land Board, the city will hold the deed, which secures a corridor for the Whitefish Trail along with trail improvements, including parking, signs, kiosks, vault toilets, water access sites, fishing access and more for “the use and benefit of the general public,” according to city documents.

The deed is expected to go before the Montana Land Board for consideration on Nov. 19, along with a land banking transaction involving Michael Goguen’s Two Bears Properties of Whitefish. That transaction involves Goguen, a venture capitalist and philanthropist, purchasing 580 acres through which he will grant a public recreation easement to the city for a new stretch of the Whitefish Trail.

At the same Nov. 5 meeting in which it approved the deed, the Whitefish City Council agreed to accept the trail easement on Goguen’s land if the Land Board approves the land banking deal.

City officials and representatives of Whitefish Legacy Partners, a local nonprofit organization that has worked closely with the city on trust land projects, will be on hand to show support for the transactions at the Nov. 19 Land Board meeting.

The deed and land banking deal are the latest components of the 2004 Whitefish Area School Trust Lands Neighborhood Plan that outlined a land-use plan for 13,000 acres of state trust lands near Whitefish. The plan seeks to find appropriate ways to both manage and protect those lands while providing revenue for schools.

The Whitefish Trail is a vital component of the plan. Nineteen of the anticipated 55 miles of trail have already been completed, with another three to be completed and unveiled this week. City officials say additional mileage will be completed in the Beaver Lakes area in 2013-2014.

A ribbon-cutting grand opening ceremony for the three newest miles of the Swift Creek section of the Whitefish Trail is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

The most recent round of land transactions is expected to contribute $10 million to Montana’s coffers for schools and universities. The deed comes at no cost to the city, other than city staff time. Whitefish Legacy Partners is responsible for paying for the deed, buoyed by a generous contribution from Goguen, according to John Anderson, a city councilor and WLP board member.

Heidi Van Everen, WLP’s executive director, said there is another effort underway to support existing recreation in the Spencer Mountain area. She expects the city council to consider that proposal at its Dec. 3 meeting, followed by Land Board consideration at its Dec. 17 meeting.

For more information, visit www.whitefishlegacy.org.