Trail to Blacktail reaches finish line

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Jon Rubright walks his dog Lacy at Herron Park on Thursday. A grand opening for the Trail to Blacktail is planned Sunday from 4-7 p.m. at Herron Park. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

Ups and downs, ins and outs and some of the most diverse views in the valley, the newly completed Trail to Blacktail provides the total package for recreationalists of all kinds. A decade in the making, the community will gather to celebrate the trail’s completion on Sunday.

Foys to Blacktail Trails Board Vice Chair Jim Watson said the trail system, extending from Herron Park to National Forest Service land on Blacktail Mountain, includes some of the best views of both the Flathead and Smith Valley from anywhere.

Now officially open to bikers, hikers, horseback riders and dog walkers, the multi-use trail winds over a rocky ridgeline, at times dipping into the forest and re-emerging for an unobstructed view of the wide Montana sky.

“Most of the people we see on the trails are locals, and we see them out there every day,” Watson said. “It’s part of their lives.”

Watson has spent the last two years on horseback designing the trail and said he knows every tree and bush in the area. Bifercating toward the middle of the trail, from the trailhead at Herron Park to the top of BLacktail Moutain is about 19 miles, with the second fork leading 21 miles to Lakeside. An additional trail adds five miles for a total of 26 and leads right to the Tamarack Brewery in Lakeside.

“This is not a boring trail,” Watson said. “It’s a variable personality.”

The project’s origins date back to 2001, but Watson said he and his board have “been at it with a vengeance since 2006.”

The land the trail runs through took several years to attain from a conservation fund, which bought the 320-acre parcel from a private owner to keep it from being put on the market, opening it up for potential development.

From 2007-2014, Watson and his team worked to raise the $2.3 million needed to purchase the entire property and then immediately donated it back to the Forest Service to be preserved and used as public land, expanding Herron Park from 120 acres to 440 acres and bringing the total trail mileage for the park to 34 miles.

According to Watson, over half of the funding for the $3 million project came from private donations in the valley. The other half came from grants provided by the Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the Flathead County Parks Board and other partners.

“We didn’t have any silver knight come riding in with a big checkbook,” he said. “It’s the community that made this happen.”

In addition to the newly publicized land, the trail also runs through about 160 acres of private land, which the owners have allowed to be used for public recreation.

The Trail to Blacktail crosses more rugged terrain and boasts some steeper inclines and declines than other trails in Herron Park, causing Foys to Blacktail Trails Administrative Coordinator Gabriel Dillon to classify it as a moderate hike.

Dillon said, though signage and mapping of the trail will not be implemented until this coming spring, the trail is clearly visible and easy to follow without them.

Watson said his board continues to raise money with the goal of maintaining the land for long-term public use and with the hopes of implementing more stroller and wheelchair accessible trails in the future.

Due to increasingly smokey conditions across the valley, the trail has been temporarily closed, but Watson said it will reopen as soon as conditions improve.

Despite the temporary closure, Watson said he and his team still plan to celebrate its completion by hosting a public celebration at Herron Park on Sept. 10 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The party will feature live music by Zino and the Bel Airs, food catered by Desoto Grill and beer provided by the Kalispell Brewing Company.

The event is open to the public, and attendees are encouraged to make a $10 donation to the Foys to Blacktail Trails Foundation in order to fund the trails’ future maintenance.

For more information on the trail, visit http://www.foystoblacktailtrails.org.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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