It’s taken seven years and plenty of legwork, but local nonprofit Foys to Blacktail Trails officially met its fundraising goal of $2.25 million on Oct. 30, giving the organization the money to buy the remaining 60-acre addition for Herron Park.
Since 2010, the group has purchased and added 260 acres to the existing 120-acre park, which sits just west of Kalispell. Foys to Blacktail Trails board chairman Clifford Kipp said on Oct. 31 that it feels gratifying to reach such a major milestone for the project.
“It feels really, really good,” Kipp said. “A lot of it is grant money, for sure, which speaks to the caliber of board members we have, because everybody is volunteer.”
The group’s namesake goal is to connect Herron Park, which sits nearby Foys Lake, to the national forest lands on Blacktail Mountain in Lakeside through a trail system. When they first started, the economy was on its way downhill in the recession, Kipp said, and plenty of local organizations had their doubts about whether the nonprofit could hit such large fundraising goal.
“Through the years we have built a lot of momentum,” he said. “I think that people saw the value of the project. We were able to advance the recreational aspect simultaneously with the land purchase piece of it.”
Buying the land means it will be permanently protected from development. The nonprofit is working toward a December goal of purchasing the final 60 acres, which was being held in The Conservation Fund, and simultaneous transfer to the Flathead County Parks Department.
Herron Park is extremely popular already, Kipp said, with an average of about 100 visitors per day throughout the year; the extra-busy nature of the summer accounts for a good bulk of that average, he said, but the winter months are also popular.
The park is also attractive to professional athletes and world-class events, he said.
To reach the $2.25 million mark, the organization received donations from almost 1,000 individuals, businesses, foundations and agencies. Grants from the U.S. Forest Service, Montana State Parks, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Flathead County Parks made up about half of the money, and the remainder came from hundreds of private donors.
Increasing the park from 120 acres to 440 acres puts pressure on the county to maintain it all, but Foys to Blacktail intends to remain active in coordinating trail maintenance, trail construction, signage and other tasks.
The county has been a steadfast, “fabulous” partner throughout the project, Kipp said.
“As a community, the Flathead has indicated and now demonstrated that that size of a park is a community asset,” Kipp said.
And now that the group has reached its considerable fundraising goal, it can focus on establishing a permanent recreational route between the park and the national forest lands on Blacktail Mountain.
“We’re excited for the next phase,” Kipp said.
For more information on the Foys to Blacktail Trails project, visit www.foystoblacktailtrails.org.