Daily Inter Lake: Federal grant to aid purchase of new state park at Somers Beach

by Chad Sokol

A 106-acre swath of land on the north shore of Flathead Lake is another step closer to becoming a state park with a hefty federal grant.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s office said Monday the state will receive more than $1.3 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to complete the roughly $3 million purchase of the beachfront property just east of Somers.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks will purchase the land from the Sliter family, which has for decades allowed the public to recreate on the sandy beach, swim in the shallow water and enjoy views of the lake and mountains.

It’s a prime piece of real estate featuring nearly a half-mile of shoreline that easily could have been a lucrative site for a home developer or a recreation outfitter, but instead it will be protected and remain open to the public.

“Folks come to western Montana from all across the world to enjoy our unique landscapes, and this is great news for our economy and for everyone who cares about our public lands,” Tester said in a statement.

Tester, a Democrat, and Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines last year helped pass legislation that fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year with royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling.

“This is great news and all thanks to the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act,” Daines said Wednesday. “Now, more Montanans and visitors will be able to enjoy Flathead Lake and Montana’s natural beauty.”

The Montana Legislature authorized the purchase of Somers Beach in April. In addition to state and federal funds, the Sliter family has committed to match up to $125,000 in a fundraising campaign with the Montana State Parks Foundation, which will help cover long-term maintenance and operation of the new park. The campaign has raised nearly $85,000 to date.

The land is flanked by other private property and has some underground contamination from an adjacent BNSF Railway Co. site, though state officials say that shouldn’t pose a health hazard to visitors.

Somers Beach will join six other units of the Flathead Lake State Park system, including Wayfarers, Yellow Bay, Finley Point, West Shore, Big Arm and Wild Horse Island.