Recreational use on our forests has increased tremendously over the last decade but the infrastructure to support that use hasn’t kept pace, and our trails are overcrowded. The solution is simple: we need more trails, and more trailheads. Thankfully, the Forest Service is working on projects like Taylor Hellroaring and Crystal Cedar that will go a long way towards meeting these needs.
The incentives for these trails are clear: spreading out users will solve many of the overcrowding problems we see, and better recreational opportunities in the valley benefit the community as a whole. A Headwaters Economics Study in Whitefish estimated that “outdoor recreation generates $101.2 million in spending annually and contributes approximately 1,460 jobs and $41.1 million in income in the community.”
Of course, the economics of the situation aren’t the primary reason for these trails. For many of us, a large part of the reason we live in the Flathead is because of the outdoor opportunities that the area offers.
There’s no question that increasing use raises concerns about interactions with wildlife, specifically bears. And yes, we can do a better job educating people about taking precautions like carrying bear spray. But vocal opponents of these projects have adopted a “sky is falling” mantra with respect to mountain bikes that isn’t backed up by data – the fact is, bike/bear interactions are extraordinarily rare. That doesn’t mean reasonable precautions shouldn’t be taken, but banning bikes or trail runners is an overreaction.
This is why Forest Supervisor Chip Weber’s approach to forest management should be applauded. Trail construction projects and event permits are analyzed with wildlife in mind, and reasonable precautions are taken. But after taking those considerations into account, much needed improvements to recreational amenities are moving forward, and the community as a whole will benefit.
Noah Bodman, board member
Flathead Area Mountain Bikers