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Recreation

Land Managers Invite Public to Weigh in on Development of Somers Beach State Park

FWP will host a virtual informational meeting on March 16 to determine what services visitors want at the newest addition to Flathead Lake’s suite of state parks

By Tristan Scott
Somers Beach on the north shore of Flathead Lake as seen in April 2020. Montana State Parks, Flathead Land Trust and others are interested in turning the beach into a state park. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Having acquired the sandy stretch of Flathead Lake shoreline east of Somers last October as the newest addition to the state park system, managers with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) are now seeking input from the public to help steer development of the 106-acre property.

The scoping process touches on a range of experiences and potential services that visitors might desire — from parking and port-a-potties to overnight camping and interpretive amphitheaters — as land planners determine what amenities and services are the best fit for a seventh state park on Flathead Lake, which features 185 miles of shoreline, though only about 10% of it is accessible to the public.

“We don’t have any firm plans for this park yet,” Dillon Tabish, FWP’s regional information and education program manager, said. “We are starting from this blank canvas and we’re asking the public to help us paint a picture that’s representative of what they want in the future. Do people want camping or day-use only? Do they want trails? Do they want educational programs? We want to hear their input.”

The process will kick off with a virtual public information meeting on March 16 at 6 p.m. Planning documents and additional information on the process are available online at https://fwp.mt.gov/stateparks/somers-beach-planning-project.

The overall planning process is expected to span several months, with a draft environmental assessment slated to be released toward the end of the summer. In the initial stages planning, FWP will also conduct public scoping through a survey that is posted online. The survey, which asks general questions about preferences, interests, and ideas for the site, is available now through April 15.

“This scoping survey will help create some baseline information to initiate our planning process for Somers Beach,” Dave Landstrom, FWP’s regional parks and outdoor recreation manager, said. “Public participation is extremely important to an informed planning process.”

For decades, access to the popular lakefront property has been allowed through a handshake agreement with its previous owners, the Sliter family, whose acreage spanned a half-mile of shoreline, and who for years had been eyeing plans to conserve the area while continuing to allow access. To that end, the nonprofit Flathead Land Trust and the Sliter family began the process of laying future plans for the Somers Beach property, with hopes of one day turning it over to FWP for management as a state park.

That transaction occurred last year, and FWP has been tackling a priority list of projects ever since, including securing funding to furnish the site with temporary amenities, such as parking and restrooms, as well as the construction of an erosion control structure. That project involves the installation of a 6,000-foot long dynamic 3D gravel beach system, which is designed to repair shoreline erosion that has occurred due to decades of dam operations. Similar erosion control methods have been successfully utilized along other parts of Flathead Lake, including Finley Point.

With the erosion project nearing the halfway point toward completion, land planners are now turning their attention to developing a long-term vision for Somers Beach, which they hope to realize by engaging with a diverse set of residents, current and prospective park users, outdoor recreation experts, and other key stakeholders.

Later in the year, FWP will organize additional rounds of public feedback to narrow in on a site development proposal. A final planning document will be issued for additional public input before a recommendation is forwarded to the State Parks and Recreation Board for final approval.

“FWP’s overall goal is to steward the site in a way that strikes an appropriate balance between providing safe, enjoyable recreational experiences with protecting fish, wildlife, habitat, and heritage resources,” according to planning documents.

The public is allowed to access the Somers Beach site, which is transformed into a sandy expanse when the dam-controlled lake levels recede each spring. But FWP officials urged the public to follow the rules when accessing the site, including by parking only in designated areas, leashing pets, and staying off private property flanking the access point.

For more information, visit https://fwp.mt.gov/stateparks/somers-beach-planning-project.

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