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Environment

FWP Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Somers Beach State Park

While most of the 106-acre property on Flathead Lake would remain undeveloped, the agency’s preferred plan includes day-use amenities and limited overnight accommodations

By Tristan Scott
Somers Beach on the north shore of Flathead Lake as seen in April 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Having acquired 106 acres of scenic Flathead Lake shoreline east of Somers 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 firm up the plans for its development.

With the release last week of the state agency’s draft environmental assessment (EA) for the Somers Beach State Park (SBSP) Development Proposal, members of the public have until Feb. 13 to provide feedback on two tiers of development proposals that touch on a range of experiences and potential services that visitors and residents have said they desire — from overnight tent camping to rental cabins — 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.

The draft EA builds on public input gathered in 2022. And while most of the park would remain undeveloped in its natural state, FWP’s preferred alternative would include day-use visitor amenities, including group-use shelters, trails and a natural playground, as well as limited overnight accommodations at three small cabins on the park’s west side, and up to six small tent pads on the east side.

According to the draft EA, FWP is also “aware of a proposed large residential subdivision in the early stages of planning for a property located directly north of SBSP.”

“The planned subdivision has the potential to impact water quality through stormwater runoff from replacement of natural vegetation with subdivision structures and parking lots,” the EA states. “Development of the planned subdivision would likely result in minor to moderate adverse impact to area wildlife and their habitats.” 

“However, the beneficial impacts from prior and proposed shoreline stabilization activities at SBSP in combination with proposed habitat enhancements may provide some mitigation,” the EA states. 

The proposed subdivision on property adjacent to SBSP is further testament to the mounting development pressure on the area, however.

Indeed, for decades, access to the popular lakefront property that is now SBSP has been allowed through a handshake agreement with private landowners, 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 public access. To that end, the nonprofit Flathead Land Trust and the Sliter family began laying plans to conserve the Somers Beach property and turn it over to FWP for management as a state park. Since that transaction occurred in 2021, FWP has furnished the site with temporary amenities, including parking and restrooms, as well as an erosion control structure. 

Last year, FWP conducted a public survey and received 1,284 completed responses, with 61% of participants stating they preferred the park be designated as day-use only. A subsequent open house and virtual planning meeting yielded a different result, however, with approximately 75% of participants indicating that some type of overnight accommodation should be available at the park. In both cases, those who wanted overnight accommodations had a strong preference for tent camping with a secondary preference for small cabins. 

FWP’s preferred alternative includes both of those limited overnight accommodations. 

The 12-by-12-foot cabins would be available for nightly rental through the state park’s campsite reservation system, while the 10-by-10-foot tent pads would be available on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone arriving on foot, bicycle, or other non-motorized means, such as kayak. Overnight vehicle parking at the main parking lot would be prohibited.

A significant portion of the park’s 106 acres is lakebed. Approximately 45 acres become exposed lakebed when Flathead Lake reaches low pool from fall through spring. The exposed lakebed is used for a range of outdoor recreation activities including hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and ice skating. During full pool, the primary use has been walking, with most of the use originating from the parking lot.

Comments can be submitted online at https://fwp.mt.gov/news/public-notices, or in writing to Somers Beach State Park Development Proposal EA, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 490 N. Meridian Road, Kalispell, MT 59901, or via e-mail to Stevie.Burton@mt.gov. A printed copy of the draft EA is available upon request.

FWP will host a virtual informational meeting on Jan. 24, 2023 at 6 p.m. to explain the development options and answer questions. Information on this meeting is posted online here.

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