Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Giving Thanks

I’m grateful for all that you do to keep our community alive

Hundreds of people donated a combined $2.4 million to 50 nonprofit organizations through the Whitefish Community Foundation. The fourth annual Great Fish Community Challenge was a huge success.

Over the past four years the Great Fish Challenge has raised over $7 million benefitting local efforts like conservation, human services, education, and enhancing local arts and culture.

The locals who donate through the Great Fish Challenge help organizations throughout the valley build capacity. A big thank you to the Whitefish Community Foundation for years of effort and success.

I was fortunate to attend the award ceremony at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center and accepted the $100,000 donated from the over 200 people who gave their cash to Whitefish Legacy Partners.

The generous donations support the community work to permanently protect 480 acres of public lands surrounding Smith Lake, help close the loop on the Whitefish Trail, and expand our outdoor and recreational programs.

I got involved in the conservation, recreation and education effort back in 2002 as the community worked for a better way to manage the public lands surrounding our town, which I had grown to love and appreciate.

Throughout the years, our community stepped up to protect our public lands. Working together, the Whitefish area has permanently protected an awe-inspiring amount of public land from development.

We built miles and miles of recreation trails surrounding Whitefish Lake and put in a dozen trailheads to make sure that all generations retain access to our public lands.

Together we’ve done this work. None of it was easy. Most of it has been fulfilling. All credit is due to the thousands of volunteers, donors, corporate sponsors, granters, private landowners, and public decision-makers who made it happen.

The Glacier Nordic Club is a partner via the Big Mountain Trailhead, halfway up the road to Whitefish Mountain Resort.

The Nordic Club also received a hundred donations through the Great Fish Challenge. The group inspires a lifelong love of cross-country skiing and spends donations to support the Pisten Bully groomer for winter trails maintenance.

Since day one, Whitefish Legacy Partners worked with the Flathead Area Mountain Bikers. On Spencer Mountain, the Freeride Trails are active and a testament to the riders of FAMB.

The conservation of public lands benefits our community. Today the Whitefish Trail contributes over $6.4 million annually to our local economy, from 73,000 tourists and trail users. The Whitefish Trail supports nearly 70 local jobs. That’s $2 million in annual labor income.

Since the beginning, we’ve enjoyed a stable partner in the City of Whitefish. If not for its vision and steady hand, none of our conservation, recreation, or education would’ve occurred.

And this work was unlikely to happen without a community of locals who donate hard-earned cash to area nonprofits. Every day people who make small or large donations keep public conservation and recreation alive.

Long ago, we established a permanent Whitefish Trail endowment fund at the Whitefish Community Foundation. It currently yields 75 percent of the annual operating and maintenance costs on the trail. Planned gifts to the fund can qualify for a 40 percent Montana tax credit.

Next month, Whitefish Legacy Partners cohosts the area’s first Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit, bringing together community leaders, outdoor businesses and decision makers.

The summit is led by the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation and also co-hosted by the Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council. The two-day recreation summit is sponsored by REI.

We’ve got a ways to go to permanently protect the 480 acres of public land surrounding Smith Lake. Together we will close the loop. Today we’re installing a footbridge and boardwalk-viewing platform at Haskill Lake.

I’m grateful for all that you do to keep our community alive. Thank you.

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