Below are the full comments to be submitted by FAMB concerning the Taylor Hellroaring Project on the Flathead National Forest. The project includes a proposal for building a new trail network to the north and west of Whitefish Mountain Resort, as well as various logging operations and fuels reductions in the same area. FAMB supports this project, and feels that the proposed trails would be a tremendous asset to the community. Please submit your comments in support of the project today!
Comments must be submitted to the Forest Service no later than Friday, April 28, 2017. Comments can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments must be submitted in rich text format (.rtf), Word (.doc), Adobe Acrobat (.pdf), or Word Perfect format. Comments should be addressed to Project Leader Deb Bond, and the subject line must contain the name of the project for which you are submitting comments: “Taylor Hellroaring Project”. You should normally receive an automated electronic acknowledgement from us as confirmation of receipt.
For more information about the project, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50518
Taylor Hellroaring Project Leader
650 Wolfpack Way
Kalispell, MT 59901
Dear Project Leader Bond,
Please accept these comments from Flathead Area Mountain Bikers (“FAMB”, formerly known as Flathead Fat Tires) regarding the Taylor Hellroaring Project.
As a member of the Whitefish Range Partnership, the Whitefish Face Working Group, and as an advocate for recreational access in the Flathead National Forest, FAMB strongly supports this project. We feel that the trails proposed in this project will bring a much needed asset to the Flathead Valley.
This proposal fits squarely within the recommendations of the Whitefish Range Partnership, and was developed with those recommendations in mind. The Whitefish Range Partnership was composed of a diverse group of interested parties, including wilderness advocates, wildlife advocates, motorized and non-motorized recreationists (including FAMB), representatives from the timber industry, and other concerned landowners. As part of a collaborative effort, this group submitted a broad set of recommendations regarding forest planning, including recommendations regarding recreation in the area of the Taylor Hellroaring Project. The WRP recommendations state that “[t]he partnership would like to see increased recreational access opportunities spanning from Werner Peak to Canyon Creek. These recreation opportunities should be in the form of trails, trail corridors, trailheads and loop opportunities.” The recommendations go on to recommend that the Forest Service “find ways to better allow for recreational access between Whitefish Mountain Resort and surrounding forest areas (i.e., allow for travel off of the Big Mountain trail system).” (1)
It is with the WRP Agreement in mind that FAMB participated in the Whitefish Face Working Group and helped develop the Taylor Hellroaring proposal. In light of this history, it is important to note that not only would the Taylor Hellroaring Project carry out the vision of the Whitefish Range Partnership, but that it would be carrying out the vision that resulted from an extensive collaborative process that resulted in an agreement on a wide assortment of difficult issues, stretching far beyond recreational access.
On a more specific level, this project is important and beneficial in a number of ways. First, it provides a missing link between the “valley trails” like the Whitefish Trail and more remote backcountry trails like the Ralph Thayer Memorial trail. These trails are critical to creating a true network of trails in the Whitefish vicinity, rather than the existing patchwork of trails that lack connectivity and cohesiveness. And within the proposal, care was taken to provide for a coherent network with a variety of loop options to offer a better experience for a wide variety of user groups.
Second, these connections have been referred to as “front country” trails, and they provide for a longer, more rugged experience than the valley trails while still being easily accessible from the Whitefish area. We feel this type of trail is important to the area’s recreation infrastructure, and will be a popular destination for both locals and visitors to the area.
Third, these trails will provide an experience that isn’t otherwise available in the area. The vast majority of the trails on Forest Service land are legacy trails that weren’t built with modern recreationists in mind. Newly constructed trails around the valley have demonstrated the popularity that comes with trails that are built using modern techniques and that are geared towards modern uses. Furthermore, the location of these trails sets them apart. While new trails in the valley have been built in recent years, the trails in this proposal have substantially more elevation gain and loss, will have spectacular views of the Whitefish Range, and will provide an experience that simply can’t be replicated on lower trails in the valley. Building trails in the Taylor Hellroaring area with these ideals in mind will create as asset that is not available elsewhere in the forest. Indeed, these trails will be uniquely special in a much broader context - they will offer a combination of recreational access in a beautiful setting that is not available in many other places.
Fourth, as alluded to above, the trails proposed in the Taylor Hellroaring project, when connected to the other nearby trail networks like the Whitefish Trail and the trails offered at Whitefish Mountain Resort will truly be a world class amenity, and something that isn’t matched in many other places in the United States. From the lower, cross country oriented trails of the Whitefish Trail network, to the downhill oriented trails on WMR, to the loop opportunities proposed in the Taylor Hellroaring area, it is not just the extent of the trails, but the diversity of trails that makes this so unique. The Whitefish economy is substantially tourist driven, and a trail network like this will be a significant amenity for the Flathead Valley that we expect will have a measurable economic impact. While the economic impacts vary from location to location, studies that focussed solely on mountain bikers found spending habits of up to $100 per day per person.(2) Given that the Flathead Valley already sees considerable outdoor oriented tourism associated with Glacier National Park, world class trail networks like the one proposed would further entice visitors to extend their stay and spend time (and money) in the Whitefish area.
We recognize that some critics of the project take issue with the quantity of trails in the network, however we feel that it makes more sense to work on a larger scale, coherent project rather than take a piecemeal approach. There are numerous examples of trail networks that came about as a collection of individual trails, rather than as a coherent, well-thought-out network. Needless to say, a well-thought-out network will better serve the recreating public. So while the network may appear substantial, in the long run we feel that it is better to approach the project in this manner.
We also acknowledge that there are concerns about negative wildlife encounters in this area, particularly with bears. In light of the tragic events of last summer, this concern is not without basis. We do, however, feel that the possibility of negative bear encounters can be effectively mitigated. FAMB is eager to assist with developing a better system to educate trail users of the possibilities of bear encounters. And in the event that there are bear sightings on trails that might warrant a temporary closure (or at least heightened caution), FAMB can use its considerable social media presence to increase awareness of that fact. Furthermore, we feel that the trails can be constructed and maintained in a manner that helps minimize the potential for negative interactions. That can mean routing trails away from berry patches, maintaining good sight lines, and configuring the trail to reduce speeds, particularly in areas where sight distance is less than optimal. Ultimately, given the extraordinary rarity that negative bear encounters occur in the region, and with an intelligent approach to education, trail construction, and trail maintenance, we feel that this issue is manageable.
Furthermore, this trail network will allow relatively easy access to longer, “bigger” recreational endeavors. At a time when more and more people are using the area’s trail networks, and people are pushing further into the backcountry with greater regularity in an attempt to escape the crowds and find new adventures, the Taylor Hellroaring proposal can help reduce the impacts associated with that reality. By providing a well thought out, well managed network of trails that offers the bigger adventures that people are seeking, this network will help relieve pressure from legacy trails that are poorly equipped to handle considerable increases in use.
Ultimately, we feel that the positive attributes of this trail network are substantial. While there are negative impacts associated with any new trails, we feel that those issues can be effectively mitigated, and are heavily outweighed by what this proposal has to offer. This project has the potential to offer a world class trail network that offers an extensive and diverse array of recreational options for all non-motorized user groups, and it would do so in a way that is different (and better) than existing options in the area.
FAMB strongly supports this project, and is excited to work with the Forest Service to fund the construction and long term maintenance of these trails.
/s/ Erin Bodman
President, Flathead Area Mountain Bikers
1. The entire Whitefish Range Partnership Agreement can be viewed here: http://headwatersmontana.org/sites/default/files/WRP_Final_11_18_2013.pdf. The pertinent section for the Taylor Hellroaring project area is on pages 43-44.