Vital Ground closes $1.15M deal that protects lake near Troy from development
TROY – Back in 2002, a developer purchased 142 acres on a small body of water called Alvord Lake two miles north of Troy – the only private land abutting the small, scenic lake that is popular with anglers.
Access to the parcel on the public lake was closed off for a time, and some local residents realized development of the forested property would threaten nesting sites for common loons, compromise important winter range for moose, deer and elk, and would likely disconnect a trail that circles the lake.
As 2015 came to a close, the Vital Ground Foundation of Missoula announced it had closed on a deal to purchase the property, which includes about a third of a mile of shoreline.
The people the foundation bought it from, Greg and Kathy Jones, purchased it from the developer back in 2003 with the idea they would hold it temporarily.
“They thought it would be short term, for a few months to maybe a year at the most,” Ryan Lutey, executive director of Vital Ground, said. “Without them, I’m sure (the developer) would have moved forward, and probably broken it into smaller lake sites.”
It took a dozen years rather than months – and more than a million dollars – but the habitat has been protected, and public access assured.
The $1.15 million project is an example of the kind of conservation work that gets done through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses royalty fees paid by energy companies that drill offshore to support efforts to preserve natural areas for the public.
Led by the efforts of a conservative Republican congressman from Utah, Rob Bishop, Congress let the 50-year-old LWCF expire earlier this year – although the Alvord Lake project had already been funded.
The LWCF was later reauthorized for a three-year period. All of Montana’s Washington delegation, including its two conservative Republicans, support the fund, and the lone Democrat, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, called LWCF “one of the best conservation tools around and I’m pleased it’s helping outdoorsmen and women enjoy the beauty of Alvord Lake.”
The U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Spaces Program, which originates from the LWCF, contributed $400,000 of the money for the Alvord Lake project. Another $100,000 came from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and at least 15 more businesses, agencies and foundations chipped in the rest.
Lutey called it “the most collaborative effort that Vital Ground has ever participated in.”
Greg and Kathy Jones played another key role in addition to buying the property from the developer in 2003, according to Lutey. He said they knocked $300,000 off the appraised value of the land, and the Vital Ground Foundation was able to buy it for $750,000, or less than $5,300 per acre.
The rest of the $1.15 million, Lutey said, will be used for the “stewardship component” of the project, which includes thinning and planting on the 142 acres, part of a 67-page stewardship plan.
The rest of the land surrounding the lake is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which was happy the deal finally got done.
“We are thrilled that the project partners and community have been able to pull together a permanent solution to complement the Forest Service’s existing public infrastructure by extending protection around the entire lake,” said Kristen Kaiser, Three Rivers District ranger for the agency.
“Alvord Lake is one of the district’s recreational gems, in part because it is readily accessible to folks with diverse abilities,” Kaiser added.
The Forest Service has already invested in Alvord Lake, Lutey said, with the trail that circumnavigates it, a picnic area, a boat launch, a covered outdoor classroom and an educational floating dock.
In addition to being winter range for big-game animals, the property is also considered “crucial habitat” for grizzly and black bears, wolves, mountain lions, Merriam’s turkey and bobcats.
Its Community Forest Program designation prohibits future subdivision and development, but active forest management will be a part of the land’s future.
“We have the ability to showcase management activities and conservation objectives in a way which demonstrates the two aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Angela Mallon, stewardship program manager for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “It’s a wonderful example of how diverse amenities which are derived from the land can be optimized through great stewardship.”
Russ Gautreaux, a member of the Libby Chapter of the Society of American Foresters – one of the many partners in the project – agreed.
“The conservation education component is a cornerstone of this plan and is one of the primary areas of interest for SAF,” he said.
And Gary Jones, managing partner of the Friends of Alvord Lake and whose purchase of the land 12 years ago made it possible, was happy it had finally worked out.
“It’s been a tremendously long process to reach a conservation outcome,” Jones said. “We’re ecstatic that we identified one that will benefit the public (and include) wildlife habitat protection and the continuation of active forest management.”