COLUMBIA FALLS — Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have officially purchased 772 acres of Wildlife Management area near Columbia Falls thanks to the outpouring support of community residents.
The Flathead Land Trust, a non-profit aimed at protecting wildlife habitat and water quality in the Flathead teamed up with FWP after the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company approached them about selling their land.
“They offered us the option to purchase it first and so right away we called Fish, Wildlife and Parks and partnered together and entered into an option agreement for the purchase of the property,” Flathead Land Trust Executive Director Paul Travis tells MTN News.
The wildlife habitat known as the Bad Rock Canyon near Columbia Falls is one of the Flathead Valley’s largest remaining undeveloped riverfront properties.
FWP and the Flathead Land Trust were given two years to secure more than $7 million in funding to purchase the land.
“You look at something like that and it’s such a big amount of money and you’re just like wow, am I even going to be able to get close to that? It was incredible, just where the money came from, how much and just how supportive people were,” said Travis.
$4 million in funding came through partnerships with the U.S Forest service while another $2.5 million came from Habitat Montana, which uses big game license fees for habitat conservation.
Travis said they were tasked with securing the remaining $590,000 in funding through community donations.
Flathead Land Trust received more than 250 individual donations, and additional support though different Northwest Montana organizations.
“And that doesn’t even count the amount of people that wrote in letters of support for the project to Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks, there were several hundred more, it was a very grassroots local effort, you know the majority of those donations came from the local area, and that’s really what got it across the finish line,” added Travis.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks will now own and manage the land which serves as a critical winter range for elk, moose, and white-tailed deer.
The purchase also secures permanent public access to the property which includes a 3-mile community trail for use by hikers, bikers, birdwatchers and more.
“Now we have a place protected for future generations and ourselves to enjoy and it’s because of you,” said Travis.
The property will be closed to the public each December through the middle of May to protect big game winter range.