Flathead County is revamping its trails plan, recently surveying community members about wants, needs, and existing issues with the county’s trail system.
The last time the county engaged with the Flathead County Trails Plan was back in 2010 when the county commission adopted the document. Mary Ruby, coordinator of the PATHS Advisory Committee, said public scoping for the project is nearly complete. (PATHS stands for People, Athletics, Travel, Health, and Safety.)
“We’ve been at this for almost a year now,” Ruby said on May 23, after the most recent open house seeking public comment on the future of the trails. “I feel like the public scope has been pretty good.”
As part of seeking out public opinion, the PATHS committee, which is made of a diverse group of shareholders, put out an online survey. Ruby said at least 700 had weighed in on what they want to see the trails become, with more expected before the survey closes at 5 p.m. on May 25.
In general, Flathead Valley residents are very interested in what the trail system is and could be, she said.
“The general ideas that I am seeing as I look at survey responses, one is connectivity and two is maintenance and improvement of what we have, and where do we need trails,” Ruby said.
At open houses, members of the public interact with groups trying to expand and connect the trail system, and Ruby said several gave opinions on how it should evolve, including wanting trails to connect Kalispell and Whitefish, or from Whitefish to Glacier National Park.
“This whole bicycle-walking trails and paths thing has kind of hit its stride – pardon the pun – because we’re more conscious about connecting communities in other ways that vehicles,” Ruby said.
Trails also offer recreational opportunities for walkers, joggers, hikers and bikers, making them important for people seeking to relocate here. A good trail system could be the deciding factor for a company deciding where to move employees, for example, she said.
“Other communities are capitalizing on that,” Ruby said.
Diane Medler, executive director at the Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau and member of the PATHS Advisory Committee, said people like to visit the valley to get outside.
“Looking at it in the tourism lens, when people come to visit, they’re coming for the whole Flathead Valley experience,” Medler said. “What visitors are looking for are things like trails, they want to get out and ride their bikes and walk.”
Medler said the valley has pieces of trails throughout, and they could all be considered together instead of individually as the county moves forward.
“Ideally, we’d have a paved trail that runs all the way from Kalispell to West Glacier or Whitefish,” Medler said.
Ruby said the document will likely be ready in July, when it will then go in front of the county’s Weeds/Parks/Recreation Board. After that, it would move to the county commissioners for a vote.
For more information, visit www.flathead.mt.gov/parks_rec/
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