DNRC Considering Final Phases of Whitefish Trail

Up for public review, ‘Close the Loop’ project will protect 480 acres around Smith Lake

By Beacon Staff
Smith Lake near Whitefish. Beacon File Photo

The public has until April 21 to submit comments on one of the final phases of the Whitefish Trail, called the “Close the Loop” project, which is currently undergoing an extensive environmental review. Approval of the project will mark one of the final steps toward completing the 55-mile loop trail ringing Whitefish Lake while ensuring public access and permanent conservation of the land.

Whitefish Legacy Partners, acting in concert with the city of Whitefish, has proposed to purchase an 11-acre trail easement and a 480-acre easement for public recreation surrounding Smith Lake. The nonprofit group is also seeking to convert the existing Swift Creek trail land-use license on 5.4 acres to a permanent easement on the Stillwater State Forest.

The second phase of the project aims to connect the trail from Beaver Lakes to Swift Creek, north of Whitefish Lake on state land.

Because the project is proposed on State Trust Lands, it is subject to an environmental review by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which must adhere to the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and complete an extensive environmental review.

Experts in soils, hydrology, wildlife, safety, and economics review each proposal and weigh in on the cumulative effects and impacts of the proposed alternatives.

The city of Whitefish formally submitted the proposal to the DNRC in June 2017. The proposal underwent a 30-day public scoping period and a nine-month environmental review. The DNRC has released the draft Environmental Assessment for the Close the Loop project and the public must submit comments by April 21.

For a link to the DNRC’s environmental assessment, visit whitefishlegacy.org.

Send comments on the draft environmental assessment for the Close the Loop Trail and public-use easements by April 21 to Nicole Stickney, DNRC Stillwater Unit, at nstickney@mt.gov or 406-881-2666.

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