Trails for Everyone The Seeley Lake Trails Project Moves Forward
In October 2014, a local group of recreational enthusiasts met for the first time to discuss the potential of a comprehensive, multi-purpose, trail system. Their vision: to create a trail system that would not only link Seeley Lake to the great outdoor recreational opportunities we have around us, but also link our community to our neighboring towns and trails.
"CRC saw the need to upgrade the trails in our watershed so that locals and visitors can access our beautiful landscape using trails that are well-identified, featuring trail loops and a carefully planned variety of trails for motorized, non-motorized and equestrians," states Cathy Kahnle, Executive Director of the Clearwater Resource Council (CRC).
Facilitated by CRC with technical support from the Ecosystem Management Research Institute, the drivers of this project are leaders from diverse recreational user groups such as Seeley Lake ROCKS, the Seeley Lake Driftriders Snowmobile Club, the Seeley Swan ATV Club, Seeley Lake Community Foundation and the Wilderness Sportsman's Club. Additional participants represent the interests of the local business community, outfitters, mountain bikers, trail runners, schools and the elderly and handicapped.
We are also working in conjunction with large-scale landowners such as The Nature Conservancy, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the U.S. Forest Service to ensure any proposed trails meet all agency parameters and are in the best interest of Americans in the long run.
"Being located in the epicenter of Montana's booming outdoor recreation industry, Seeley Lake has much to gain from increasing the visibility of hiking, skiing, and mountain biking opportunities in our world class backyard", states Lee Boman who represents Seeley Lake ROCKS in the Trails Project planning group.
Community input will be the key to success
Currently the Clearwater Valley has a network of trails and roads on public and private lands that provide some access for the diverse recreational activities that are in high demand by both residents and tourists. Unfortunately, it's often difficult or impossible to access these trails.
Miles of trails are unmaintained or form incomplete loops or are placed in such a manner to damage sensitive environmental areas. Consequently, a careful balance must be maintained between preserving natural resources on public lands and expanding recreational uses where appropriate.
As stated by Advisory Council member Curtis Friede: "I am very encouraged by the work that has been done thus far by the Seeley Lake Trails Project. I believe they truly desire to create a very thoughtful multi-use plan that will not only benefit a wide range of individuals and individual uses, but will, as a result of this approach, have the best chance to create the greatest impact on the community."
Decisions about the location of trails or their uses that we seek will not be made until the entire community has the opportunity to provide input on what they want to see in a trail system and a clear decision making process involving the public has been established. However, the project cannot continue until we receive adequate funding to provide project oversight, meeting facilitation and technical support. We think the best way to accomplish such a big task is for all groups who use trails and interested individuals to work together and invite input from the entire community.
To this end, we draw inspiration and ideas from many other Montana communities that have had the tenacity and vision to create trail systems.
Trail leaders highlight July 10 Celebrate the Clearwater event
CRC's summer event, Celebrate the Clearwater, will feature the stories from prominent trail creators from around the state at Camp Paxson, Sunday, July 10 from 3-7 p.m. Guest speakers include Heidi Van Everen of the Whitefish Trails and Russ Ehness of the National Off-Road Vehicle Conservation Council (NOVCC) in Great Falls. Whitefish community members began planning their trail system in 2004. Today the system features 26 miles of trails with seven trailheads for hiking, biking and equestrian uses.
Russ Ehness of the NOVCC will share numerous examples of how local ATV groups have partnered with other trail users to coordinate trail access, do weed treatment and perform trail maintenance. Trails partner organizations will provide additional information about their groups and the Trails Project leaders will give a full update of our progress.
It is our hope to bring a trail system to this valley that will encourage a wider range of family activities, improved general health and better recreational opportunities in addition to driving healthy economic development and providing connectivity to the larger region around us.
We hope to see you at this free July 10th Celebration to learn about this project and what we hope to accomplish in our shared backyard.