County Receives $400,000 to Create Community Forest Above Herron Park

By Beacon Staff

The forest above Herron Park, which serves as a playground for many hikers, bikers and horsemen, will expand by 110 acres thanks to a $400,000 federal grant awarded to Flathead County.

Although the county received the grant in August of 2012, the purchase was not completed until July 31.

While recreationists have continued to use the forest that connects Herron Park to Blacktail Mountain, the future of the land has remained uncertain.

The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit group, purchased the land in 2007. The intention was to hold temporary ownership in order to give the Foy’s to Blacktail Trails group time to raise funds to buy the land. Foy’s to Blacktail Trails would then donate the property back to the county to create a permanent public park.

Foy’s to Blacktail Trails has been working tirelessly since then, applying for grants and hosting picnics and races to raise money to preserve the area.

As part of this effort, Foy’s to Blacktail Trails submitted, and received, a community forest grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s newly announced Community Forest Program. The program, launched in August of 2012, allocated $3.5 million last year to conservation projects across the country and those grants were matched with another $8.5 million from other partners. Only 10 projects in the country were selected to receive community forest grants.

The grant stipulates the money be used to create a community forest, meaning the land will be for educational purposes as well as recreation. Local schools will be able to bring classes to the woods for hands-on learning experiences. Furthermore, local landowners will be able to use the community forest to learn different forest management techniques.

Foy’s to Blacktail Trails has been purchasing the 320-acre parcel above Herron Park in smaller sections or “phases,” making the fundraising more manageable, according to Foy’s to Blacktail Trails board president Cliff Kipp.

Flathead County, in collaboration with Foy’s to Blacktail Trails, used the money from the community forest grant to purchase phases four and five of the project. These parcels will be combined with phases two and three, which have already been obtained, to create the community forest.

“We kicked in additional land to make the community forest larger as a show of good faith and to show that we really want this to be a functional and large community forest,” said Kipp.

While the project has made substantial progress since its birth in 2005, there is still work to be done to secure the entire land parcel for public use.

“We still have another phase to close on. We still have to raise another $400,000 or so. Our role in this is getting the funds together to be transferred to the county to be permanently protected as a park for the public,” said Kelly O’Brien, a Foy’s to Blacktail board member.

“We still have phase six to buy, which is some of the choicest property out there. That is where the Foy’s Overlook is. That is where most of our trails head. It is important to know that our work is not done,” added Kipp. “We’ve been working really hard and have a lot of momentum but we need the community to rally around this final phase.”

The group emphasized that even the smallest donations from individual trail users help to move the project forward. With this most recent grant boosting the project past the 80 percent completion mark, the trails are nearer to conservation than ever before. With one final fundraising push the land will be protected from development and restrictions for generations to come.

For more information visit FoysToBlacktailTrails.org or call 203-3939

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