Montana Open Lands Month Spotlight

Mention Lisa Slagle’s name in Whitefish, Montana, and you will likely get a smile. She left Colorado behind and arrived with force to launch Wheelie Creative, a local graphic design firm. Wheelie’s branding and design reflect Slagle’s fun-loving personality, and she has brought a creative light to many small businesses and organizations in the region, including Whitefish Legacy Partners. To date, Whitefish Legacy Partners (WLP) and the City of Whitefish have established 26 miles of the Whitefish Trail accessed by seven trailheads.

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Lisa riding with her dog Scout. Photo Credit: Green Cat Photography

Lisa recently moved out to the Beaver Lakes area and she now lives adjacent to the Whitefish Trail. When asked if she would miss living in town, she quickly replied with a grin, “Are you kidding? Not only do I get access to the Whitefish Trail out my back door, but I will be able to commute to work on my mountain bike!”

Conservation is a thread that unites all Montanans. Protecting and preserving clean water, wildlife habitat, and access to open lands is vital to preserving our quality of life. WLP is dedicated to creating a lasting legacy for Whitefish and their truly meaningful work is transforming the community.

Not long ago, the state lands surrounding Whitefish were subject to development threatening to limit recreational access to these open lands. Three years ago WLP and the City of Whitefish concluded negotiations with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to purchase a permanent conservation and recreation easement on 1,520 acres of School Trust Land around Beaver Lakes.

A significant portion of the easement cost was funded by philanthropist Michael Goguen with WLP responsible for raising $2M from the community. In September of 2014, WLP faced raising the final $285,000 in less than three months. The project took a giant step forward when the Whitefish Community Foundation (WCF) provided a $100,000 Major Challenge Grant. WCF’s Executive Director, Linda Engh-Grady, commented, “This challenge is as much for the citizens of the Whitefish community as it is for WLP. The open space, watershed protection and trail system are tremendous assets for Whitefish and greatly enhance our community.”

WCF Award Photo (600x800) Since its inception in 2000, the Whitefish Community Foundation has supported local nonprofit organizations in the Whitefish  community with over $12 million in funding. The foundation has also supported WLP with seed money for the Whitefish Trail  Learning Pavilion, annual grants for education and recreation projects, a GREAT FISH Community Challenge this summer, and as  a financial sponsor in the Whitefish Trail Adopt-A-Trail program.

The same section of trail adopted by the Whitefish Community Foundation is also maintained by Wheelie Creative Design. Twice a  year, Slagle and fellow employees rake loose rocks, clear drainages, and remove brush from Lion Mountain to Skyles, which only  by coincidence, is the same section she rides during her hour long commute to Whitefish.

Although budgeting time into her busy day running her business may seem difficult, she says the commute actually helps her  focus.  “Mountain biking to work is not only good for my physical health but it transforms a potentially long day ahead into very  tangible tasks. I can set intentions, mentally prepare for meetings, and get into a very creative space to brainstorm future design  projects.”

When asked what excites her most about the future of the Whitefish Trail, she quickly responded, “The expansion into Haskill  Basin! I will be able to ride my mountain bike from the summit of Big Mountain all the way to town! It’s amazing that our small town supports such amazing trails!”

On the heels of completing the Beaver Lakes Easement, WLP is keeping momentum. They aim to open a new section of the Whitefish Trail at Spencer Mountain (8 mile loop), construct three miles of trail providing access to three lakes, and collaborate on the newest conservation and trail project in Haskill Basin.

The Trust for Public Land and the City of Whitefish are preparing to purchase a conservation easement on a 3,020-acre Haskill Basin property owned by FH Stoltze Land & Lumber Company. The easement will support the local timber industry through continued sustainable logging, while at the same time, will protect the community’s municipal water supply, conserve important wildlife habitat, and guarantee public access to the incredible recreational playground known as Haskill Basin.

The citizens of Whitefish overwhelmingly supported a funding measure to help purchase the easement this spring by voting to add 1% to the resort tax. WLP is currently working with the City and Stoltze to establish a recreation easement that will include a trail on the west side of Haskill Basin, with access from the paved bike path at Reservoir Road.

The support from local residents, the City of Whitefish, and organizations like Whitefish Community Foundation has made the Beaver Lakes Easement and 26 miles of the Whitefish Trail possible in only five short years. WLP will continue to rely heavily on trail users and conservation minded community members to create a 55 mile loop around Whitefish Lake. This work creates a lasting legacy and all are welcome to participate in these efforts. For more information, visit www.whitefishlegacy.org.