Local Organizations Recommended for Trails Program Grants

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks seeks comments for proposed recreation and trail grants including nearly $400,000 for local nonprofits

By Micah Drew
Montana Conservation Corps members build trail for the Crystal Cedar Flats project in Columbia Falls on May 4, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has recommended 10 local recreation-focused nonprofits to receive nearly $400,000 in funding through the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) and Trail Stewardship Grant Program (TSGP) for trail-related projects in 2023. The local groups are among 68 project proposals statewide recommended to receive nearly $2.6 million between the two grant programs.

Funding for the RTP comes from the Federal Highway Trust Fund and represents a portion of motor fuel excise tax collected from non-highway recreational fuel use, such as by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway light vehicles. The TSGP was established following the 2019 Legislative Session when Senate Bill 24 was passed into law. Funding for TSGP comes from a portion of Montana’s $9.00 light vehicle registration fee, as well as a portion of marijuana tax revenue.

Eligible projects that can be funded through TSGP include development and rehabilitation work of trailside and trailhead facilities, maintenance and restoration of existing trails, and construction of new trails. Recreational Trails Program funding can cover the same project types as the TSGP, as well as easement acquisition and educational program development and operation.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation conducts stewardship projects during the summer with its conservation crew and volunteers. In 2022, crew members and 369 volunteers maintained 451 miles of trails, built three trail structures, cleared thousands of trees and did maintenance work on more than 160 drainages. That work will continue in 2023 with the aid of a $50,000 Recreation Trails Program grant and nearly $20,000 through TSGP.

The Foys to Blacktail (FTB) Trails group manages more than 30 miles of trails southwest of Kalispell, including more than 17 miles of stacked loop trails around Herron Park and the FTB Trail that reaches all the way to Blacktail Mountain Ski Area above Lakeside. The $26,400 FTB is slated to receive from the Recreational Trails Program will be used to fund the reconstruction of drainage features on 6.7 miles of trail in the Herron Park area, while a $7,200 grant through TSGP will be used to finish five miles of trail construction around Emmons Ridge.

Up on the north end of the Flathead Valley the Whitefish Legacy Partners applied for a $50,000 grant to construct a new trail connecting the recently built Holbrook Overlook trails north to Hellroaring Creek, which will add 4.5 miles of natural surface trail to the Whitefish Trail and bring the Legacy Partners closer to their goal of closing the Whitefish Trail loop — a fully connected network of trail connecting the city of Whitefish to Lion Mountain, Beaver Lake, Swift Creek, Spencer Mountain, and Big Mountain. The new stretch of trail is part of the $400,000 Taylor-Hellroaring project, a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, the City of Whitefish and the Legacy Partners that will ultimately add nearly 30 miles of trail to the network.

A sign near the Big Mountain Trailhead of the Whitefish Trails system on May 13, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

During the winter, the Flathead Snowmobile Association is responsible for maintaining hundreds of miles of trails for winter recreational users. The Association will receive $92,000 from RTP and $20,000 from TSGP towards next winters trail grooming and maintenance efforts, which will fund grooming of roughly 180 miles of trail for snowmobiles, fat-tire bikes, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing.

Last fall, Gateway to Glacier Trails broke ground on the Cedar Flats trails project last fall with a first phase of trail building that included roughly four miles of new construction. The $30,000 grant from RTP will be used to construct a trailhead at the end of 4th Avenue in Columbia Falls, the main access point for the Cedar Flats trail system. At the same time, Gateway to Glacier Trails will be working on phase two of the trail system which includes constructing between three and five miles of trail utilizing a $21,000 grant from the TSGP.

Two ski clubs —Glacier Nordic Club in Whitefish and the Kootenai Cross-Country Ski Club in Libby — both applied for Recreational Trail Program grants to fund grooming and maintenance work on their respective trail systems next fall. Glacier Nordic Club will receive $22,000 to maintain around 15 miles of trail on Big Mountain, while the Kootenai Ski Club will use $13,560 to groom 13 miles of the Flower Creek Nordic Ski Trails system.

Freshly groomed track in Whitefish. Photo courtesy of Glacier Nordic Club

Down along the Mission Mountains, Swan Valley Connections applied for $22,500 in funding from the TSGP to clear and maintain 82.5 miles of established trails along the Swan Front. The organization will partner with the U.S. Forest Service and Daughter of the Sun Backcountry Services to complete the project.

The Flathead Avalanche Center provides daily avalanche forecasts and regular avalanche safety classes across northwest Montana. A $20,000 Recreational Trails Program grant will help fund their education and forecasting efforts next winter.

The Yaak Valley Forest Council, an organization that implements conservation and restoration programs focused on preserving critical wildlife habitat in the Yaak Valley, will use a $15,239 Trail Stewardship grant to conduct trail maintenance and noxious weed abatement along 10.2 miles of trail around Blacktail Creek and Dodge Summit.

The 2023 RTP and TSGP funds will be awarded following a public comment period. Complete lists of the proposed RTP and TSGP grant recipients are available online at www.fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/grant-programs/recreational-trails and www.fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/grant-programs/trail-stewardship respectively. Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on May 11 and can be submitted by emailing [email protected] and [email protected] respectively.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.