Board tables updated trails plan

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Speaker after speaker emphasized Monday morning that moving the updated trails plan forward would not obligate Flathead County to spend anything to build or maintain new trails.

Speaker after speaker said the updated plan could, in fact, facilitate access to grant funding that could help pay to build and maintain new trails. They described trail networks that are both economic drivers for communities and contributors to a high quality of life.

Ultimately, however, members of Flathead County’s Weed, Parks and Recreation Board voted 4 to 1 to table the updated Flathead County Trails Plan until further notice. The board could have voted to move the plan on to the county Planning Board for review.

“I feel we need to do a little tweaking,” said Pete Woll, chairman of the Weed, Parks and Recreation Board.

Board members James Buechle and Clyde Fisher expressed concerns about the county being saddled with costs to maintain additional trails.

“I pay more taxes than I should, anyway,” Fisher said.

Board member Jessica Treweek said she wants information about how a trails network could pay for itself.

Sam Harworth was the lone supporter on the board of moving the updated trails plan forward, noting it did not bind the county to any expenditures.

Woll said the next step would be to meet with other county departments to talk about the plan and possible tweaks.

Earlier, included among the 20 people who spoke in favor of moving the plan on to the Planning Board were Jeff Mow, superintendent of Glacier National Park, Chip Weber, forest supervisor for Flathead National Forest, Jandy Cox, owner of Rocky Mountain Outfitter and Joe Unterreiner, president and chief executive officer of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.

The Associated Chambers of the Flathead, in a three-page letter dated Feb. 4, had urged the Weed, Parks and Recreation Board to move the plan forward.

During Monday’s meeting, held at the Parks and Recreation Department’s complex on FFA Drive, two speakers expressed concerns about how trails could impact their taxes.

One was George Everett.

“I believe these trails should be paid for by people who use them,” he said.

The latest configuration of the People, Athletics, Travel, Health and Safety Advisory Committee, a group referred to by the acronym PATHS2, revised the Flathead County Trails Plan originally adopted in 2010. The first planning meeting occurred in August 2017.

Participants in the public sessions included county staff and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Flathead Land Trust, Rails to Trails of Northwest Montana, Whitefish Legacy Partners and Gateway to Glacier Trail, among others.

The draft Flathead County Trails Plan observes that a network of trails can increase business revenues, improve public health, increase property values of homes near trails and improve a community’s quality of life.

All these points were reiterated by speakers at Monday’s meeting.

Cox was among the many people who left the meeting disappointed by the board’s vote.

He noted that many of the trails created in the past decade have been supported by private fundraising. And he said outdoors-oriented businesses such as Rocky Mountain Outfitter, REI, Sportsman & Ski Haus, along with bicycle shops and others, recognize the value of a vibrant trails network.

Weber said the task moving forward would seemingly be to allay county concerns and emphasize the opportunities offered by a trails network. He said the Forest Service is ready and willing to offer its expertise.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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