New park would add public access to north shore of Flathead Lake
Along Montana's Flathead Lake, public access to the pristine waters is a rare commodity.
But that may change in the next few years, as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing to acquire 106 acres to the east of Somers for the creation of a new state park.
This property, owned by the Sliter family, has been identified as a significant undeveloped portion of the north shore of Flathead Lake and would complement habitat protections already in place along the lakeshore. This project is a rare chance to provide more public access to Flathead Lake, which currently has less than 20 public access points along its 185 miles of shoreline, all of which are heavily used by residents and tourists.
Throughout the year, there is enormous demand for opportunities to recreate on or near the lake; and state, city, and county parks and Fishing Access Sites (FAS) are at or above capacity throughout much of the year. Seeing this need for more recreational access, multiple entities have been working together to add the proposed Somers Beach property to the Montana State Park System and ensure future public access.
The site would be suitable for a variety of recreational offerings and amenities, such as trails, hand-launch boat access, benches, picnic tables, restrooms, waterfowl viewing, educational vignettes and more. The exact nature and location of amenities and hours of operation have not yet been determined. Extensive scoping and public comment will determine the future development of the park through a separate assessment. As a result, FWP has not determined whether the site would include an overnight component or provide day-use only. FWP recognizes site management and staffing of the site will be crucial to addressing initial concerns about the proposed park.
A final appraisal is scheduled to occur in Sept. 2020. Funding would be provided by a pending Land and Water Conservation Fund grant and required matches from Parks Earned Revenue or General License Fund monies.
FWP has worked with the Sliter family and Flathead Land Trust to consider the project. The Flathead Land Trust previously solicited public input on the initial acquisition, and several hundred people provided comment. Those letters were presented to the Montana State Parks Board earlier this year to show community support and encourage the Parks Board to move forward with further consideration of the project. The board voted to do so, which initiated the next phase of the project, including the preparation of this draft environmental assessment (EA) and a formal public commenting process.
“For decades, our family has been working towards a vision of formal public access at Somers Beach. This beautiful place on Flathead Lake has been enjoyed by residents and visitors for generations. We couldn’t be more excited about the collaboration with FWP and Montana State Parks on this proposal,” stated Andrew Sliter.
“In order to protect this special place from future private development, conserve the wetlands and bird habitat, and secure much needed new public access on Flathead Lake, a state park offers our best opportunity to do so,” stated Paul Travis, executive director of Flathead Land Trust. “Flathead Land Trust has been committed to working towards a conservation and public access outcome with the Sliter family on this beautiful property for over a decade now, and to see this come one big step towards fruition is extremely gratifying.”
The public comment period for this draft EA will extend for 30 days beginning Aug. 14, 2020. Written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m., September 12, 2020, and can be mailed to: Somers Beach Acquisition EA; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; 490 N. Meridian Road; Kalispell, MT 59901 or sent by e-mail to: Stevie Burton at Stevie.Burton@mt.gov.
FWP is seeking public input on the proposal, and the deadline to comment is Sept. 12, 2020. Copies of this environmental assessment will be available for public review at FWP Region One headquarters in Kalispell; the Montana State Library in Helena; and on the FWP web site (http://fwp.mt.gov) under Public Notices.