Whitefish Legacy Partners (WLP) has officially met its fundraising goal of $2 million to secure a permanent conservation and recreation easement on 1,520 acres in the Beaver Lakes area.

The Beaver Lakes conservation and recreation easement purchase was structured over a two year period with the final payment due December 31st, 2014. A significant portion was funded by philanthropist Michael Goguen with WLP responsible for raising the remaining $2 million from the community.

Fred Jones, WLP Chair, explains, “I am once again overwhelmed by the generosity of our community. We have received wide support in funding the acquisition of the permanent Beaver Lakes conservation and recreation easement and are amazed and overjoyed to announce that we can now complete this purchase. We are enthralled by the support from the community for conservation of lands surrounding Whitefish, and are greatly indebted to all of the people who have supported this acquisition.”

To reach the $2 million mark, the organization received donations from a broad base of individuals, businesses, and foundations. The recent $100,000 Major Challenge Grant by the Whitefish Community Foundation provided the much needed impetus to complete the community fundraising efforts.  The community clearly recognized the value of conservation surrounding the Whitefish Trail and embraced donating to permanently protect Beaver Lakes.  Donations ranged from $ 0.10/acre to $150/acre, including pledges that will be paid over the next 12-24 months, as well as a final “Mystery Donation”.

The Mystery Donors, who pledged the final $85,000, are long-time contributors to the Whitefish community, Jim and Lisa Stack. “Personally, we cannot imagine a more worthwhile community-driven project than the Whitefish Trail.  We are proud to join the hundreds of visionaries and volunteers who are working so hard to create this legacy for future generations. And we’re humbled by the opportunity to pay it forward, and help push this Beaver Lakes Project over the final hurdle.”

The Beaver Lakes Conservation and Recreation Easement secures permanent public access, ensures no development, provides continued forest management by the DNRC, offers more money than ever for schools and universities of Montana, and provides the community a quality recreation amenity known as the Whitefish Trail. The Beaver Lakes area includes seven pristine lakes, quality wildlife habitat, and existing and developed recreation. The easement will provide watershed and viewshed protection, new trails, an education pavilion, and public access in perpetuity.

Lin Akey, former WLP Board Chair and Whitefish Glacier Bank President, has been truly inspired by the way the community has come together.  Akey explained “The recreational access which generations of Montanans have enjoyed is growing scarce.  Whitefish has secured the essential values that serve as the backbone of the local and state economy – recreational access to wide open spaces. There is a cast of hundreds who have had their fingertips on this project!  Congratulations Whitefish.”

As WLP completes the Beaver Lakes fundraising effort, they are joining the City of Whitefish and the Whitefish community to celebrate meeting the ten year goals established in the Whitefish Neighborhood Plan. The Whitefish Area Trust Lands Neighborhood Plan is a land-use plan that was approved in November 2004 for the 13,000-plus acres of State Trust Land surrounding the City of Whitefish. The plan defines future land uses for Trust Lands that support clean water, quality wildlife habitat, viewshed protection, and high quality public recreation access.

The Whitefish City Council approved a resolution on Monday, December 1, 2014 to extend the Whitefish Area Trust Lands Neighborhood Plan through 2024. Declaring the successful completion of the first ten years of the plan, the City and Whitefish Legacy Partners are celebrating the permanent protection of 3,000+ acres and generating over $12.5 million dollars in gross revenue for the schools and universities of Montana.

Mayor John Muhlfeld, members of the Neighborhood Plan Steering Committee and WLP’s Board of Directors traveled to Helena on December 15th, 2014 to present a ten year assessment and progress report to the Montana Board of State Land Commissioners.  The State Land Board and the local DNRC Kalispell and Stillwater Offices formalized the extension of the Whitefish Area Plan for another ten years.

The Whitefish Neighborhood Plan has clearly proven to be a win-win-win collaborative effort that supports conservation, education and recreation and boosts the local and state economy. The community will now have ten more years to influence future projects and continue to develop innovative solutions to create community-driven conservation and recreation initiatives.

Now that the group has reached its considerable fundraising goal and fulfilled the ten year Neighborhood Plan, WLP plans to focus on establishing more trails within the easement and pursuing other education and conservation goals including protection of Haskill Basin and the City’s drinking water. Heidi Van Everen, WLP Executive Director emphasizes, “We can now move forward in partnership with local landowners and the Whitefish community to assure continued public access, protect our water quality, maintain healthy forests, sustain quality wildlife habitat and provide recreational and educational opportunities into the future.”