The Flathead Valley scored a pair of big wins this week as the Forest Service approved a long-discussed forest project in Whitefish and moved closer to finalizing another in Columbia Falls.
Both projects include the construction of new trail networks, as well as forest management actions that will feed local lumber mills while helping to protect these communities from the threat of wildfire.
In Whitefish, the Taylor Hellroaring project will feature 28 miles of new non-motorized trails that will link up with the established Whitefish Trail system, as well as the trails on Big Mountain. It also includes a commercial timber harvest on nearly 1,000 acres and forest fuel reduction work on another 1,000 acres, all made possible through the Good Neighbor Authority program that allows federal agencies to enter into agreements with the state for projects aimed at improving forest health and productivity.
The Taylor Hellroaring project has been a half decade in the making, with discussions and planning beginning at the grassroots level. The group of citizens, recreationists and landowners who participated in the process deserve a hearty pat on the back for recognizing the desire and need for such a project, and for pushing it across the finish line.
In Columbia Falls, the Crystal Cedar project is one step away from final approval. This ambitious project calls for nearly 25 miles of new trail just north of town, as well as a commercial timber harvest on 2,435 acres, and forest management on another 1,287 acres. About 9.4 million board feet of lumber is expected to go to local mills.
Ultimately, these two projects will prove to be a major boon for the entire valley.
Of course, local hikers and bikers will enjoy and benefit from the easily-accessible trail networks. But there’s a significant economic component as well. Outdoors-based tourism is big business here, and the addition of more than 50 miles single-track will certainly help feed the cravings of the millions of visitors who come to Montana in search of these opportunities — and spend their money while in town.
And just as important, these projects will supply logs to our mills while improving overall forest health in the wildland-urban interface.
Call it a win, win, win for recreation, the economy and the timber industry.