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Conservation groups near goal for Bad Rock Canyon purchase

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | May 5, 2021 3:19 PM

Conservation groups have almost reached a $7.1 million fundraising goal to purchase nearly 800 acres of forest and wetlands just east of Columbia Falls, at the mouth of Bad Rock Canyon.

The Flathead Land Trust is working with the Flathead Lakers, Montana's Outdoor Legacy Foundation and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to preserve the land as a state wildlife management and recreation area. On Monday, the nonprofit announced they are $100,000 from reaching their goal to complete the purchase from the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co.

The 772-acre property is just downstream of Bad Rock Canyon, a geographic pinch point where the Flathead River flows between the Swan and Whitefish mountain ranges.

"Wildlife including grizzly bear, black bear, mountain lion, coyote, fox, elk, deer, otter, pine marten, bald eagle, sandhill crane, great blue heron and many other species of birds and wildlife use the project land," the Flathead Land Trust said in an announcement Monday. "Wetlands, a spring creek and forested riparian habitat on the property help safeguard the water quality of the Flathead River and Flathead Lake."

Additionally, the project will help secure public use of a 3-mile trail for hikers and bikers that's under construction by the Gateway to Glacier Trail group, and maintain opportunities to hunt deer and elk on the property. Conservationists don't want to see the land turned into subdivisions.

"As the real estate market receives increasing demand and the valley experiences rapid development, keeping open spaces such as the project land intact is becoming a rare opportunity," the Flathead Land Trust said.

Much of the funding for the project has come in the form of state and federal grants, including about $4 million from the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program.

The Flathead Land Trust's Laura Katzman said more than 100 community members have donated to the project, with matching "challenge" donations of $50,000 and $100,000 coming from Dean Marsh, the AGL Foundation on behalf of the Pastor and Gordon families, Bob and Betty Moore, Jim Hollensteiner and one donor who asked to remain anonymous.

The Flathead Land Trust has more information about the project and is accepting donations at flatheadrivertolake.org.

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4439 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com