Recreation is Great for Youth, Education, and Economy

By Beacon Staff

Open public lands and the great outdoors are enormous economic drivers for the Flathead Valley.

The Daily Inter Lake in an editorial titled “Kidsports is a key city asset” wrote that securing the recreational easement in Kalispell “is an idea that deserves serious attention.” The newspaper wrote in part that, “It could be an entirely worthwhile opportunity to seize upon.”

Whether Kalispell uses $2.3 million of urban renewal funds to secure a permanent easement for the youth sports fields on the state trust lands across from the Flathead Valley Community College is a community decision. But youth and families heavily utilize 138 acres of state public lands.

The Kalispell youth sports fields have created a true visionary partnership opportunity between private entities, Kalispell, and Montana.

An easement would permanently secure public access, recreational opportunities, and no development. Millions of dollars would go toward public education. Some may not favor using tax increment financing to secure recreational easements on public lands, but the transaction is consistent with urban renewal plans.

Nearly a decade ago locals working with the state, developed plans for generating more money for schools from the public state lands surrounding Whitefish.

From the beginning Whitefish locals have consistently collaborated on transparent and workable plans to keep these public lands open for recreation.

Last week, the city of Whitefish unanimously approved a suite of transactions to go before the state Land Board. The recreational opportunities are strikingly similar to the plans that Kalispell is vetting, with one notable exception: Whitefish is not proposing to use any tax dollars to pay for public recreational easements.

The $10 million suite of transactions will be entirely private money, levered from generous people who believe in public lands and recreational easements like the Whitefish Trail.

Public lands in the Beaver Lake, Murray Lake, and Skyles Lake areas would permanently be secured for recreational activities like biking, hiking, horse-riding or simply enjoying the great outdoors.

The millions of dollars are gravy for statewide public education, as Montana will still generate all monies from traditional uses like logging and cabin site leases.

The $10 million transactions are at full market value and will secure permanent recreational easements, public access into perpetuity, and assure no development in critical watershed areas.

There may be a handful of political ideologues who still espouse dogmas that public lands should be sold for development. These ideologues think that conserving any economic resource for our children is beyond the pale of decency.

Mayor John Muhfeld and the city council’s unanimous support of the Whitefish Trail and open public lands is a testament to the public commitment that the community has demonstrated toward recreation and education.

Whitefish and Kalispell acknowledge the economic importance of recreation and children. Combined the two cities could leverage over $12 million for public education.

This money will keep statewide property taxes down. The Montana Legislature must first use these kinds of monies for public education, and then taxpayers’ dollars pay the balance for statewide schools.

Putting this $12 million of recreational easement money into perspective; the last coal mining lease approved by Montana on public lands encompassed 640 acres near Roundup. It mines 12 million tons of state-owned coal to generate $15 million in royalties and other revenues to help schools.

Kalispell has taken 16 years to find a permanent solution for youth. In Whitefish it took nearly a decade of collaborative effort. In both instances the costs represent full market values and secures recreational easements for our children’s’ children.

Our Flathead sister cities are poised to leave a recreational legacy for generations to come and will save homeowners plenty of money when paying for public education.