Trails and Timber Projects Advance in Flathead National Forest

Officials issue notice of decision on Taylor Hellroaring project in Whitefish, move to next phase of planning on Crystal Cedar in Columbia Falls

By Tristan Scott

Separate proposals to add trail and harvest timber on the Flathead National Forest have advanced in the planning process, with forest officials issuing a “finding of no significant impact” on a bid to construct 28 miles of new trail in the Taylor and Hellroaring creek drainages north of Whitefish.

Dubbed the Taylor Hellroaring Project, the decision also identifies approximately 2,000 acres of vegetation treatments including fuels reduction “to improve forest resilience and protect local communities and other values at risk from wildfire.” The project objectives also include restoring whitebark and western white pine where suitable habitat conditions exist, and maintaining and improving wildlife habitat, according to forest officials.

The construction of new trails will be done in collaboration with the Whitefish Face Working Group, including Flathead Area Mountain Bikers, the Whitefish Trail, Whitefish Mountain Resort, and other community partners, according to Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber.

“It is a privilege to collaborate with local residents and nonprofit organizations to achieve significant recreation and wildfire preparedness goals,” Weber said. “Working alongside such dedicated partners, we are able to realize so much more together. We look forward to continuing those strong working relationships as we move forward to implement this project.”

The proposal adds 1.5 miles to Whitefish Trail’s inventory of new single track on the Tally Lake Ranger District, in addition to constructing the Holbrook Overlook Trailhead.

“We are extremely excited that the decision to move the project forward has been signed,” said Heidi Van Everen, executive director of Whitefish Legacy Partners, which oversees development of the Whitefish Trail. “In upcoming years, the community will have new opportunities to recreate in this Tally Lake Ranger District front country area with a direct connection from town to adjacent public lands via the Whitefish Trail.”

The Flathead National Forest has also released a draft decision notice on the Crystal Cedar Project that includes a proposed 25 miles of recreational trails adjacent to Columbia Falls. It also proposes to conduct 3,700 acres of vegetation management to reduce fuels close to neighborhoods in the wildand-urban interface, including 2,500 acres of timber harvest.

The nonprofit Gateway to Glacier committee has worked closely with the Forest Service on the proposed trail plan and is excited for the next phase of this project.

The project area includes Crystal Creek, Cedar Flats, Spoon Lake, Blankenship Road, and Teakettle Mountain.

“Community interest in this project has been high,” Weber said. “Partner organizations have played an important role particularly as we’ve considered multiple ideas about trail construction and maintenance. I applaud District Ranger [Rob] Davies and his team for working so collaboratively with the public. The best projects we do result from working this way during both planning and implementation.”

According to Weber, the forest received hundreds of comments over the last two years about the project. The environmental assessment was released to the public in June of 2019 and received 150 written comments.

The thrust of the comments expressing both support and concern centered on additional trail opportunities near Columbia Falls, potential effects to and conflicts with wildlife, and increased recreational use in the area, among other aspects of the project, Weber said.

The project has entered an objection period, which is required by U.S. Forest Service regulation. The 45-day administrative review period allows people who have previously submitted comments to file an objection to the draft decision.

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