The Close the Loop Series has discussed how the Whitefish Trail benefits our local economy, wildlife, and quality of life. At the core of the project also exists an invaluable connection to the natural lands surrounding our community. Locals and visitors from all walks of life can gain meaningful experiences by exploring local lands on the Whitefish Trail. Whether your child sees their first bear in its natural habitat, catches their first fish in Beaver Lakes, or learns the value of sustainable forestry during a school field trip, the Whitefish Trail is a living and breathing outdoor classroom for all ages. These first-hand experiences demonstrate the importance of protecting public lands and also build a strong conservation ethic within the community — so much so that 84% of Whitefish voters raised the resort tax to pay for the 3,022 acre conservation easement in Haskill Basin.
In addition to outdoor learning, volunteer stewardship opportunities on the Whitefish Trail inspire a sense of ownership to our local lands. 100% of the current 42 miles of trail is maintained and patrolled by community volunteers. 14 Adopt-A-Trail crews each perform 2 work days a year, a 50-member volunteer bike patrol regularly reports trail conditions, and community stewardship days teach valuable skills to the public. In 2016 alone, these volunteers donated ~2,000 hours to the project valued at $29,750.
The Close the Loop project calls for permanent protection of 480 acres of vulnerable State land surrounding Smith Lake. Identified as a prime development opportunity, the community wants to ensure those lands will benefit both wildlife and the public for generations to come. Interpretive signs at Smith Lake would teach lessons in watersheds and water quality, while ones adjacent to Swift Creek would teach about river hydrology and native fish.
The Whitefish Trail is so much more than just a foot path. It provides a unique setting for outdoor learning and instills a sense of pride and ownership to our local landscape.