Bigfork Outdoor Recreation Alliance Seeking Public Input on Recreation Plan

The community-led plan seeks to guide the future of development in and around Bigfork while promoting outdoor access and sustainable tourism

By Denali Sagner
Sunset on the Flathead River at Sportsman’s Bridge outside Bigfork on July 31, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Bigfork Outdoor Recreation Alliance (BORA) is seeking public input on the final draft of a plan that seeks to guide the development of a safe and sustainable recreation system in and around Bigfork.

The 2023 Bigfork Area Outdoor Recreation Plan is the culmination of a nearly yearlong process by BORA, which involved community engagement meetings and surveys, as well as consultations with private landowners, state and federal agencies and community organizations. Members of BORA include the U.S. Forest Service, PacifiCorp, Flathead Lake Lodge, Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork, Bigfork Chamber of Commerce, Bigfork Rotary, the Whitney Family, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana Land Reliance, Flathead Land Trust, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Trust for Public Land.

“What’s unique about this plan is that it’s driven by the community, not by the land managers,” Diane Conradi, founder of the Montana Access Project, the outdoor recreation consulting firm that helped develop the Bigfork plan, said. “A lot of people either don’t know or don’t care who owns and operates the places where they love to get outdoors. So this was a way for us to bring together those land managers and community leaders.”

The Bigfork Area Outdoor Recreation Plan “recommends goals and objectives for a connected system that balances recreation and conservation, promotes partnerships, and identifies funding resources to support adequate recreation infrastructure” in and around Bigfork, the north shore of Flathead Lake, the Jewel Basin and the area surrounding Woods Bay and Crane Mountain. With the completion of the plan, BORA hopes to increase competitiveness for infrastructure and outdoor recreation grants, provide short and long-term guidance for the development of the area, promote sustainable tourism, and support community leaders and agencies in land management practices.

“With projects like Harrell Forest Community Trails coming soon, we know that safe and sustainable connections to the outdoors are really important to the economic vitality, livability, and health and wellness of the community. From the Swan River Nature Trail close to town, to the new Somers Beach State Park along the north shore of Flathead Lake, this plan will help everyone pull in the same direction and create more opportunities for safe and connected recreation opportunities in the greater Bigfork area,” Paul Travis, executive director of Flathead Land Trust, said in a press release. “As a group, we’ve worked hard to represent the vision of the community and find the right balance between recreation and conservation in the Bigfork area.” 

Conradi emphasized that because Bigfork is an unincorporated community and is not administered by a city government, community groups like BORA, in partnership with Flathead County, play an outsize role in guiding development.

The recreation plan prioritizes “community-led priorities and community-led projects that help people get outdoors and get into nature,” Conradi said.

Residents, local businesses and outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to review the final draft of the plan and provide feedback through the online feedback form, or by emailing [email protected]. Deadline for comments is Sept. 4.

The Bigfork Area Outdoor Recreation Plan will be presented to the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee on Aug. 31 at 4 p.m. at Bethany Lutheran Church, where residents will be able to hear more about the plan and the committee will be able to ask questions to guide its land use decisions for the area going forward.