Flathead Beacon: FWP Secures Federal Funds for New State Park, Proposes Erosion Mitigation Strategies

by Micah Drew

Montana’s two U.S. senators announced this week that a more than $1.3 million grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) would be directed to Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks to help create a new state park along the north shore of Flathead Lake.

Last December, the Montana Land Board approved the state’s proposal to acquire a half-mile, 106-acre sandy expanse along the lake’s north shore to codify access to the popular recreation site and permanently conserve wildlife habitat and create a new state park.

In April, the proposal received the green light from the state Legislature with HB 5 providing FWP the authority to acquire the property from the Sliter family for roughly $3 million.

“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,” Sen. Jon Tester D-Mont., said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing our work to ensure these lands – and the outdoor recreation economy that depends on them – will remain open to the public for generations to come.”

Tester, along with Sen. Steve Daines R-Mont., were instrumental in securing full and permanent funding for the LWCF as part of the Great American Outdoors Act that was signed into law in 2020. LWCF, first established by Congress in 1964, is funded by offshore oil and gas royalties rather than taxpayer dollars and provides hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to protect public lands and increase access to outdoor recreation.

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

In addition from the LWCF grant, the Sliter family will match up to $125,000 in a fundraising campaign with the Montana State Parks Foundation to help cover day-to-day operations and long-term maintenance.

On Oct. 7 the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board will discuss a capital improvement project for the recently acquired Somers Beach State Park.

According to the projects information sheet, decades of dam operations to maintain full pool water levels has resulted in a steady loss of shoreline due to erosion along the new park’s lakefront.

The board is proposing to create a 6,000-foot long dynamic 3D gravel beach system to stop the loss of existing shoreline and provide a natural transition from the shoreline to fringing wetland, as well as creating more usable shoreline for visitors during full pool.

A dynamic 3D beach uses washed rock and large woody debris to absorb wave action and mitigate erosion. Similar erosion control methods have been successfully utilized along other parts of Flathead Lake, including Finley Point.

Public involvement will be solicited upon the release of an environmental assessment pending board approval of the proposal, which has an estimated price tag of $565,000

Flathead Lake currently has only 13 public access sites along approximately 185 miles of shoreline, 89% of which (excluding islands) is comprised of long stretches of private land.

The Somers Beach site will be the seventh unit of Flathead Lake State Park, joining Wayfarers, Yellow Bay and Finley Point on the east side of the lake, and West Shore, Big Arm and Wild Horse Island on the west side.

Last year, FWP reported a total visitation among the six units approaching a half-million, and in the first half of 2021, the parks drew an estimated 147,003 visitors, making it the third most visited park in the state.