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New leadership continues mission of Legacy Partners
Fred Jones | Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:00 am
Following in the footsteps of Lin Akey, who recently stepped down as chairman of Whitefish Legacy Partners, is a daunting challenge. Akey passionately believes in the importance of securing permanent public access to lands around Whitefish for the use and enjoyment of the community and utilizing these lands in ways that will ensure the continued high environmental qualities of the Whitefish area.
Under Akey’s leadership, Whitefish Legacy Partners completed a precedent setting series of transactions with the Montana Department of Natural Resources this past year. These transactions permanently protect 1,500 acres in Beaver and Skyles Lakes area from development and guarantee continued public access to these lands in perpetuity. The 1,500 acres subject to a permanent recreation and conservation easement encompass Woods, Dollar and Little Beaver Lakes and portions of Beaver and Murray Lakes. More than 10 miles of the Whitefish Trail currently are located within the easement with an additional 7 miles of trail in the planning stages that will connect to all of the lakes within the easement.
The securing of the permanent recreation and conservation easement is the culmination of many years of effort by a dedicated group of citizens that had the vision in 2003 to work with the DNRC to define how the state lands around Whitefish Lake would be managed. The effort was initiated because of the threat of some of these lands being traded by the DNRC to developers. The state lands are managed by the DNRC for the benefit of the schools of Montana and the DNRC is obligated to maximize the value of these lands for the schools.
During the real estate boom, it appeared that some of the state lands that have for years been used by us for recreation were in jeopardy of becoming private. With the decline in the real estate activity in the past few years, we were given some breathing room to negotiate with the DNRC.
All parties are fully aware that real estate activity will regain strength in the not too distant future, again putting pressure on the DNRC to maximize the value of the lands held for the benefit of the schools. The value of the permanent easement placed on the 1,500 acres was determined by independent appraisal under the direction of the DNRC, which reflected the development potential.
Being in close proximity to the city of Whitefish, the resulting appraised values were significant. As a result of a series of transactions associated with the easement transaction, approximately $10 million was raised for Montana schools. A significant portion of the total was related to land adjoining the easement that was acquired by a private landowner from the DNRC and placed into a permanent conservation easement with agreement for a portion of the Whitefish Trail to be constructed through the parcel.
The past year was a milestone for Whitefish Legacy Partners, accomplishing the first of what is anticipated to be several transactions in and around Whitefish to preserve public access to lands we have traditionally used for recreation and to protect our high quality environment through proper management and use of lands that are important to our water quality, view sheds and wildlife habitat. I look forward to assisting with expanding this legacy.
— Fred Jones is chair of the Whitefish Legacy Partners