For the past decade, as Whitefish Legacy Partners has continued to expand its reach, a slate of races each October has showcased the community’s growing network of buffed-out single-track trail, a recreational paradise that accommodates multiple uses while protecting wildlife corridors and allowing for productive forest management.
The Whitefish Trail is the anchor project of Whitefish Legacy Partners (WLP), the upshot of a community collaborative to preserve clean water, public access, recreation, and working forests.
In 2010, the inaugural Whitefish Trail Legacy Run featured a 10-kilometer course that tracked from Beaver Lake to the Lion Mountain trailhead, a 6.2-mile ribbon of dirt that signified the realization of years of planning.
Today, the Whitefish Trail features 42 miles of trail, providing access at a dozen trailheads in and around town, and last year completed trail development in Haskill Basin, where 5.5 miles of trail connects downtown Whitefish to Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain.
Its growing suite of autumn races continues to reflect the trail system’s expansive growth, but nowhere will that be more evident than the 10th annual running of the Legacy Run this October, which spans two days and features a 50-kilometer (31-mile) ultramarathon that begins and ends at Depot Park in downtown Whitefish.
Set to coincide with the Great Northwest Oktoberfest, the new 50K Mountain Run will take place Oct. 5, connecting runners to the Reservoir Trailhead before climbing the Whitefish Trail into Haskill Basin and up to Whitefish Mountain Resort and the summit of Big Mountain.
Boasting an elevation profile of 6,000 feet of vertical, the rolling course will use the Whitefish Trail, the trails at Whitefish Mountain Resort and Flathead National Forest trails to demonstrate the connectivity of recreational parcels as well as conservation projects in and around Whitefish.
Margosia Jadkowski, WLP program director, said the addition of the ultramarathon sates a growing appetite for long-distance mountain races and aligns with the nonprofit’s ambitious project to “close the loop” by completing a network of community trails that encircles Whitefish Lake.
“It’s always been part of our vision to include a longer race, and this is a great way to celebrate the connection that the Haskill Trail provides to Big Mountain and the Flathead National Forest,” Jadkowski said. “The fact that you can start from downtown Whitefish and access the summit of Big Mountain was a good enough reason to add this as an option for runners hungry for a longer distance.”
With help from the race’s title sponsor, Whitefish Therapy and Sport Center, as well as access courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort and the Flathead National Forest, the 50-kilometer course will include aid stations and a boisterous finish at Depot Park, where participants will receive entry into the Great Northwest Oktoberfest celebration.
On Oct. 6, racers will have the opportunity to explore the Beaver Lakes area of the Whitefish Trail with four course options — a half-marathon course that follows single-track trail surrounding Dollar, Little Beaver and Woods Lakes; a 10-kilometer loop around Murray Lake; a 5-kilometer tour of the South Beaver Lake Loop; and a two-mile family fun run that meanders along the Whitefish Trail.
As the team at Whitefish Legacy Partners, led by Executive Director Heidi Van Everen, rolls out its 2019 race schedule, the mission to “close the loop” on the ambitious Whitefish Trail project continues to come closer to fruition.
The ongoing support for outdoor recreation and conservation has helped keep vulnerable local lands accessible and undeveloped while also fulfilling the state Department of Natural Resource and Conservation’s obligation to maximize profits for thousands of acres of School Trust Lands around Whitefish.
It’s an example, Jadkowski said, of how conservation, recreation and forest management can not only coexist, but also strengthen one another and work hand in hand.
Connecting people to the landscape also helps advance Whitefish Legacy Partners’ goal of shaping a conversation about how the trail system can support recreation and compatible forestry while protecting lands from development.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Haskill Basin.
For years, conservation groups and city officials have recognized the development pressure that could bear down on Haskill Basin, a block of land northeast of Whitefish owned by F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co.
And for years, those concerns were quelled by a good-faith agreement with the Stoltze family, who for more than a century has maintained its commitment to managing the Haskill parcel as a working forest, rather than leveraging it into a revenue-rich development deal.
In 2016, that handshake deal was inked into the history books as Whitefish city officials, along with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Stoltze, and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, finalized an agreement to furnish permanent protections on 3,020 acres of land in the Haskill Creek watershed.
It marked one of the most complex land swaps in state history, according to public land managers, and protects a block of land that sees among the heaviest concentrations of multiple-use in Montana — it is a working forest, a recreational haven, and the source of the lion’s share of Whitefish’s municipal water supply.
Whitefish Trail users also benefit, and Jadkowski said the conservation success will yield a deeper allure at the upcoming ultramarathon, registration for which is already beginning to fill.
“From our perspective, part of what makes the Haskill Basin section so special is that the community has worked so hard to protect it,” she said. “So not only is there the recreation component but also the conservation component. That is something we are very excited to share.”
The ultramarathon will be limited to 200 participants. Learn more and register at https://www.whitefishlegacy.org/event/whitefish-trail-run/