Columbia Falls a Finalist for Conservation Planning Pilot Program

Community could work with Trust for Public Land on ways to improve recreational water access in the community

By Justin Franz
Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls on Oct. 2, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Officials in Columbia Falls have their fingers crossed that they will be selected to take part in a pilot program spearheaded by the Trust for Public Land that will help the community develop conservation and water access projects.

Columbia Falls is one of nine finalists in the Intermountain West. City Manager Susan Nicosia said the city would find out later this month if it’s one of the six towns selected to be part of the program. If selected, the town will work with planners from the Trust for Public Land to develop a list of conservation projects to aid the health and economy of the community.

Nicosia said the Trust for Public Land would also be able to help the community find grants for the projects, including those that would improve recreational access on the Flathead River. Nicosia said that Columbia Falls is unique in that it is the only large community on the Flathead River, but public access points are limited.

“We want to help the community find interesting ways to connect to water resources,” said Jason Corzine, director of community conservation for the Trust for Public Land. “A lot of communities have visions and ideas for projects, but a lot of towns lack the funding to actually do them. But we have tools to figure out how to fund these projects, be it at a local, state or federal level.”

The Trust for Public Land is no stranger to the Flathead Valley. On Feb. 1, the trust announced that it, along with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, had secured a 7,068-acre conservation easement in the Haskill Basin near Whitefish.

Corzine said the trust’s planners would meet with as many people as possible in the local community and work with Columbia Falls for up to two years on a possible conservation plan. The pilot program is funded by a $6.7 million grant from the LOR Foundation.

Since the 1970s, the nonprofit Trust for Public Land has worked with thousands of communities across the nation to conserve land in a way that improves the local quality of life. For more information, visit www.tpl.org.

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