Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project Closes Funding Gap

With nearly $7 million raised toward fundraising goal, a 772-acre parcel along the Flathead River near Columbia Falls is poised to gain protection as wildlife habitat

By Tristan Scott
A creek runs through the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project area, which encompasses 800 acres along the south bank of the Flathead River east of Columbia Falls as seen on March 9, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Conservation groups are closing the fundraising gap on an effort to purchase 772 acres of Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. (CFAC) land at the mouth of Bad Rock Canyon on the Flathead River, a move that would shield the prized parcel from development and furnish its natural resources with permanent protection.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), working in concert with the Flathead Land Trust, has proposed purchasing the forested parcel spanning 1.6 miles of the Flathead River near Columbia Falls. The property, which is highly developable and under increasing pressure from the rapidly growing town of Columbia Falls, would be owned and managed by FWP as a Wildlife Management Area, while also providing free public recreation access in perpetuity.

Currently, the nonprofit Flathead Land Trust, working with the Flathead Lakers, has raised nearly $7 million of the $7.1 million needed to purchase the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project property. 

Through an option agreement with CFAC, the partners have until the end of the year to complete the deal.

In March, three donors offered to match up to $100,000 of all donations raised through July 15 by the Flathead Land Trust and the Flathead Lakers. The two nonprofits announced this week that over 100 members of the community have stepped up to support the project, and the challenge match was met.

In response to the fundraising success, two new donors have stepped forward to increasethe challenge by $50,000.

To help the Flathead Land Trust meet its fundraising challenge and obtain the matching funding, the organization encouraged supporters to donate online at flatheadlandtrust.org or by sending a check to Flathead Land Trust, with a note that the donation is for the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project. 

The land at the center of the project is owned by CFAC, a subsidiary of Glencore, a multi-national company that has retained the parcel as open space accessible by the public for decades. The company has decided to sell the property, which is located just east of Columbia Falls south of the Flathead River and does not include the former aluminum plant, which is the site of a Superfund-designated environmental cleanup. The property serves as winter range for elk, moose and white-tailed deer, and the proposal to purchase it would safeguard a vital travel corridor for bull trout and grizzly bears, both of which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It also provides opportunities for youth and disabled hunters to harvest elk and white-tailed deer just minutes from Columbia Falls. In recent years, a trail has been constructed on the land by Gateway to Glacier Trail, Inc., a local nonprofit group granted a revocable license by CFAC to allow access for hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, and others.