The Flathead County Commission adopted on May 14 an addendum to the county’s trails plan that calls for a moratorium on trail construction until a funding mechanism can be set up to pay for ongoing maintenance.
Flathead County is responsible for maintaining approximately 33.6 miles of paved paths, including the Gateway to Glacier Trail and Rails to Trail, and about 15 miles of unpaved trail, mostly in Herron Park.
Presently, Flathead County has about $300,000 set aside for trail maintenance. Most of that came in a specific trail maintenance allocation in the 2020 budget. But that’s not a regular appropriation, and until a recurring funding source is identified, the addendum recommends that the county not build more trail. The commission unanimously supported the addendum.
“I believe in trails and I think they’re a great thing,” said County Commissioner Pam Holmquist. “We’ve really seen that with the coronavirus, and people are really getting out there and using the trails, but we’re going to have to get creative with how we maintain these things.”
The addendum also breaks down how much it costs to maintain the trails. For example, a mile of paved path requires about $2,100 annually in maintenance. That includes sweeping, mowing, weed control, litter cleanup, signage and general repairs. A mile of gravel or natural path costs about $300 annually. All of those costs increase if you include snow removal as well. Long-term maintenance costs are also calculated, including pavement preservation, crack sealing and more.
With the new addendum to the trails plan in place, the county is now planning on conducting an “impartial evaluation” on all of its trails to figure out the best way to spend the $300,000 it currently has. Meanwhile, various departments will be looking to solve the question of how to pay for more maintenance in the future. During the hearing, Holmquist encouraged community groups interested in helping maintain trails, like the Foys to Blacktail Trail group, to reach out to the Flathead County Parks & Recreation Department.