Outdoor education nonprofit the Glacier Institute is making a final appeal to the community to help secure funding for a new nature center outside of Columbia Falls.
The nonprofit last May set its sights on a 142-acre parcel of land east of the Flathead River and north of U.S. Highway 2 in Columbia Falls. The land boasts wide open fields, bubbling creeks, acres of native trees and wetlands, as well as hiking trails and a historic home. The property’s owners, who had previously considered turning the parcel into a housing development, decided they’d like to see the land go to the community, eventually reaching out to the Glacier Institute.
When he learned about the property, Glacier Institute Executive Director Anthony Nelson saw it as fitting perfectly into the nonprofit’s long-range mission. The Glacier Institute’s board of directors in 2021 identified constructing a nature center somewhere between Columbia Falls and West Glacier as a critical goal.
Already equipped with basic cabins, water features, trails and animal habitat, the nonprofit would not need to add much meaningful infrastructure and would be able to hit the ground running, Nelson told the Beacon during a tour of the parcel in June.
Nelson urged the community to help secure the nature center to protect a pristine, wild parcel of the valley.
“We are not an anti-development organization,” Nelson, said in a Jan. 30 press release, “But this particular piece of land holds an incredibly high ecological value to a wide host of species. The community has already expressed an interest in preserving this land, and we hope to do it in a way that will benefit everyone.”
The Glacier Institute would host indoor and outdoor educational courses, snowshoe walks, bear safety lessons and animal viewing opportunities, among other programs, at the nature center.
However, the Glacier Institute has struggled to raise funds for the property, which would run up a bill of $2.5 million dollars if they were to sell their current office in downtown Columbia Falls and relocate entirely to the new nature center, as would be the plan.
The nonprofit hopes that the valley’s philanthropic community will step in and help secure the nature center for generations to come.
“This is our last big effort,” Nelson said. “Either someone will step up to help us fund the project, and the community will benefit immensely, or the land will be sold, and we’ll miss this chance. Either way, we gave it our best shot, and we will keep looking for opportunities to achieve our goal of creating a Nature Center.”
Those interested in learning more about the nature center proposal or making a contribution can contact Nelson at (406) 755-1211 or email [email protected].
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