“Land Board oks Whitefish Trail deals” 11/19/2012 Daily Interlake

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Whitefish Trail

Land Board OKs Whitefish Trail deals

By LYNNETTE HINTZE/Daily Inter Lake | Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012 8:00 pm

The Montana Land Board on Monday gave unanimous approval to two state trust land transactions that will create permanent public access and retain scenic views on lands containing segments of the Whitefish Trail.

A recreation easement proposed by the city of Whitefish and the nonprofit Whitefish Legacy Partners for 1,520 acres was approved. The easement will allow expansion of the Whitefish Trail to connect Murray, Beaver, Woods, Dollar and Little Beaver lakes.

The easement, approved at a full market value of approximately $7.3 million, also provides permanent access to that area and retires development rights on the land.

Whitefish Legacy Partners will pay for the easement using community donations and money from corporate sponsors and philanthropic partnerships, spokeswoman Lisa Jones said.

A land bank transaction proposed by Whitefish venture capitalist and philanthropist Michael Goguen also was approved by the Land Board.

Goguen’s limited liability company, Two Bear Properties, will pay the market value of $2.9 million to buy 580 acres in the Beaver Lakes area that now will be known as the Beaver Land Bank. Development will be restricted to two homesites to preserve scenic vistas and a dedicated two-mile public trail addition to the Whitefish Trail.

The state is mandated to capture full market value with all of its leases on school trust property and stands to get more than $10 million in revenue for Montana schools.

Whitefish Legacy Partners will use $1 million of Goguen’s $3 million original donation for the easement, plus $1 million the group is raising. Goguen has said he will put more money in to reach the $7.3 million.

Goguen, known for his conservation efforts in the Whitefish area, said Monday his motivation in participating in the trail project has as much to do with education as it does with conservation.

“Not only will these deals create a legacy of permanent public access and outstanding recreational trails, they also provide Montana’s schools and universities with over $10 million dollars in much-needed revenue — without a single dollar of taxpayer money,” Goguen said after the Land Board meeting.

“It’s not every day that I can take part in a project with so many worthy goals rolled into one — protecting scenic vistas, abundant wildlife, healthy forests and pristine water — while creating a world-class trail system and supporting education.”

Goguen, who lives at his Two Bear Ranch near Whitefish part time, said he uses the Whitefish Trail in his backyard extensively.

“I’m one of its biggest personal fans,” he said.

A catalyst for the trail project was Goguen’s 2008 land swap with the state that allowed development of the Lupfer Road trail segment farther west of Whitefish. At that time he donated $3 million for trail construction and conservation of state lands.

Whitefish Trail proponents have been working with state agencies for nine years to develop a 55-mile trail system through state trust lands around Whitefish Lake. Three new miles of trail opened last week, bringing the total to 22 miles of completed trails.

The two proposals approved Monday are a continuation of implementation of the Whitefish School Trust Lands Neighborhood Plan approved by the Land Board in 2004.

A big contingent of trail supporters attending the Land Board meeting included Goguen, several Whitefish City Council members and Whitefish Legacy Partners board members. A letter of support addressed to Gov. Brian Schweitzer and the Land Board was signed by more than 200 community members.

During a trip to Whitefish last week, Schweitzer said he would like to see more Montana communities use Whitefish’s model for collaborative trail projects. Other communities have asked the Land Board to use state lands without offering anything in return, he said, but in Whitefish’s case, just the opposite is true.

“This [Whitefish] community has said, ‘We’ll pay you [the state] and you can continue to log and we’ll put money into using this land for recreational use,” the governor said.

Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld said the Land Board’s approval is “a landmark decision from the city’s perspective, and a culmination of 10 years of hard work.”

Whitefish Legacy Partners’ next step is securing trail recreation licenses in the Swift-Lazy Creek, Lupfer Road and Spencer Mountain areas. The Land Board will consider the recreation licenses at its December meeting.

The Whitefish Trail is a collaborative effort with Whitefish Legacy Partners, the city of Whitefish, Montana Department of Natural Resources, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Flathead County, U.S. Forest Service, Flathead Land Trust, private landowners, community groups and local volunteers.

 Whitefish Trail

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.