Wednesday, October 05, 2022
63.0°F

State officials, community leaders honor opening of Somers Beach State Park

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | May 13, 2022 12:00 AM

Montana’s newest state park Somers Beach State Park on the north shore of Flathead Lake is open after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon.

The event included comments from Gov. Greg Gianforte, Montana Fish, Parks and Wildlife leaders, leaders from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, local land trust groups and the Sliters family.

Efforts to turn the property into public land have been ongoing for many years but officially took off when FWP acquired the 106-acre beach property in October 2021. The land previously belonged to the Sliter family, who have kept public access open on the property. The Flathead Land Trust has been working with the family for more than a decade to keep the property open to the public for the long term.

Gianforte said he wanted to recognize the work that went into the formation of the park by thanking the Sliter family, the Flathead Land Trust, the Montana State Parks Foundation, FWP and state legislators who helped make the acquisition possible.

“I just want to say thanks for all their efforts. We have a half mile of Flathead Lake on a state park that because of the Sliter’s generosity, families have enjoyed this for a long time, but with this transfer to FWP we’re going to be able to invest and enhance so that people can enjoy this land in perpetuity,” Gianforte said.

Sliter’s Chief Financial Officer Andrea Goudge spoke, representing the family. She told the crowd about how her family, which owns Sliters Lumber and Building Supply is Somers, has enjoyed watching the community take part in Somers Beach over the years.

“My grandmother acquired much of this property in the 1930s, when the young Sliter family was a mercantile business and the family lived in the apartment behind the original store. Somers was a bustling town in the day and we didn’t close our gates or shoo people away — baseball games were held on the sand and hunters hunted, families picnicked, anglers fished and kids cooled off during the hot summers,” Goudge said.

Executive Director of the Flathead Land Trust Paul Travis told the Daily Inter Lake in 2020 that at different times over the course of a decade the parties considered a county park, a fishing access site and other ideas, but when Montana State Parks expressed interest in the parcel, the idea seemed like a natural fit.

At Thursday’s ceremony, Travis thanked the community, who he said gave overwhelming support for the project. Given the location and the beauty of the site, he said, it was a no-brainer to choose to preserve the land for future generations.

“I wanted to also acknowledge this place, this view that we have, this amazing lake. You know you really don’t get a view like this anywhere else, even on Flathead Lake. So, it’s just one of those special places that it just seems like ‘oh yeah of course, we’re going to save that for the next generation and generations to come,’ but obviously, it takes a lot of work and effort making that happen,”

Previous FWP Region 1 Supervisor Jim Williams said Somers Beach was the last project he worked on before retiring. He said he’s seen many attempts for the long-term stewardship of Somers Beach, but is elated to see the project finally come to fruition.

“There were some mountains moved to make this happen. You know about the development pressures in this valley and this could all be a neighborhood and condominiums, but instead we had a family, the Sliter family, that cares about a sense of place,” Williams said.

Hope Stockwell led much of the ceremony as the Administrator for the Outdoor Recreation Division Administrator under Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. She welcomed Tribal Elder Louis Kiya Jr. with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to make opening remarks for the ribbon cutting.

“At one time we were caretakers of this property here, the nation people being here, we didn’t own the land, but we were caretakers,” Kiya Jr. said. “Today, this property went back into the hands of great people. I say my dream came true because I talk to this one up here every morning, asking for protection for our territory.”

The state’s Parks and Recreation Board recently approved $200,000 for the park for initial site development, which includes a parking lot, trash cans, bathrooms and signage. Stockwell said FWP is going through a planning process to determine what the site will look like.

FWP Region 1 Communication and Education Program Manager Dillon Tabish said the park is currently open for day-use only. There are no fires or fireworks allowed and dogs must be on a leash at this time.

He said construction of a parking lot is expected to begin in a couple of weeks, so until then people need to park mindfully.

Access to Somers Beach State Park is from Somers Road near the intersection with Pickleville Lane.

photo

Paul Travis, executive director of the Flathead Land Trust, speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Jim Williams, former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' Kalispell Region 1 director, speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Hank Worsech speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Tribal Elder Louis Caye Jr. of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes sings a ceremonial song after giving a speech at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Andrea Goudge, Chief Financial Officer at Sliters Lumber & Building Supply, speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Attendees walk out to the beach along Flathead Lake after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

photo

Ryan Yearous and Linda Sliter Yearous walk along the beach with their children Melody and Arthur after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Somers Beach State Park on Thursday, May 12. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Recent Headlines