Gateway to Glacier Trails Receives Trail Stewardship Grant for New Cedar Flats Construction

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced more than $400,000 will be funneled into seven Northwest Montana trail projects

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

With the reemergence of the forest floor from under a blanket of melting snow, trail building crews are preparing to break ground on a series of projects north of Columbia Falls, continuing a third year of expansion for the Cedar Flats Trails. The planned 25-mile network of multi-use single-track, developed and maintained by the nonprofit Gateway to Glacier Trails, got a boost this week with the announcement of a $90,000 Trail Stewardship Program (TSP) grant from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), one of seven northwest Montana organizations to receive grants for trail improvement projects this year.

“Grants like this go directly to implementing the trails project and are vital to getting work done on the ground,” said Jeremiah Martin, the Cedar Flats committee chair for Gateway to Glacier Trails who has spent years getting building community support and getting the project off the ground.

Last year, grants like those provided by FWP contributed to more than half of the organization’s budget, of which 50% was allocated to trail building and maintenance operations.

This year, the TSP grant is earmarked for building out a new trailhead on the north side of the network off of Cedar Ridge Road/NF-1690. The new trailhead will include a larger parking lot and a vault toilet and will augment the smaller Fourth Avenue trailhead that will al be completed this summer. Both the Cedar Ridge trailhead and the Fourth Avenue trailhead will have vault toilets on site.

“It’s going to be the easiest access point for the trail, plus there will be additional pullouts built where the trail crosses the forest service roads,” Martin said.

Construction on roughly three miles of trail along the western side of the network began last fall and crews will start working to finish that stretch of trail in the next few weeks, with trails expected to be ready for use this summer. Martin said that once those trails are completed, there will be a 10-mile perimeter loop that can be connected without doubling back or using any of the interior trails. Future phases of construction will focus on smaller trail loops near the Fourth Avenue trailhead and extending the network further north into the Flathead National Forest.

A trail near the Big Mountain Trailhead leading toward Haskill Basin on Whitefish Trails system on May 13, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

More than $400,000 in Trail Stewardship Program grants will go towards trail improvement projects in northwest Montana in 2024. Statewide, 36 organizations received $2 million in funding, more than twice the amount awarded in 2023. Organizations are required to match 10% of the total project costs.

In Whitefish, the Whitefish Legacy Partners received a $60,000 grant to help with continued trail maintenance along the 47 miles of trail and 15 trailheads the nonprofit oversees surrounding Whitefish Lake and up Big Mountain.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation conducts stewardship projects during the summer with its conservation crew. Each year, conservation crew members and volunteers maintain around 500 miles of trails, including building trail structures and bridges, clearing thousands of trees, and treating tens of acres of weeds. More than 350 volunteers contribute their time to the foundation, work that will continue in 2024 with the aid of a $42,000 TSP grant.

In Lincoln County, the Eureka Youth Sports League requested $98,470 to develop and pave a new trail around the Eureka Youth Sports Park. The walking and running path will be roughly two-thirds of a mile in length, surrounding the existing pickleball courts, soccer fields, roller hockey rink and playground.

The Flathead Valley Snowmobile Association is set to receive $74,720 for grooming and brushing operations along 200 miles across three local trail systems. The group maintains trails in the Canyon Creek area on the backside of Big Mountain over to Desert Mountain near Glacier National Park, the Lost Johnny area on the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir and on Crane Mountain near Bigfork.

Swan Valley Connections will receive about $50,000 for ongoing trail maintenance projects along the Swan Front and in the Mission Mountain Wilderness Area.

Additionally, FWP awarded Lincoln County more than $62,000 to develop a new trailhead at Kootenai Falls.

The TSP was authorized by Senate Bill 24 during the 2019 Legislative Session and is funded through a portion of Montana’s light vehicle registration fee, as well as a portion of marijuana tax revenue. Eligible projects that can be funded through TSP include development and rehabilitation work on urban, rural, and backcountry trails; construction of community trails; and snowmobile and cross-country ski trail maintenance and grooming operations.

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