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Groups launch fundraiser for Bad Rock project

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | April 4, 2021 7:00 AM

As part of a final push to raise the money necessary to purchase nearly 800 acres along the Flathead River, the Flathead Land Trust and other partners are launching an online auction that will offer bidders a wide range of exclusive outdoor experiences.

A news release states 10 packages will be made available through the auction, which is slated to begin April 5 and will run through April 30. Experiences up for bid include a guided fly fishing trip in the Bad Rock Canyon area, a fossil hunt along the Middle Fork with an expert from the Smithsonian, and a hike in Glacier National Park with renowned naturalist, author and grizzly bear expert Doug Chadwick.

Funds raised will go toward the purchase of 772 acres at the mouth of the Bad Rock Canyon that conservationists have long eyed as a parcel that could provide public access in the area, which sits just east of Columbia Falls, and protect valuable wildlife habitat.

The Flathead Land Trust, Flathead Lakers, Flathead River to Lake Initiative and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) started fundraising for the property last summer. The property’s current owner, Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., granted the partners an option to purchase the property by Dec. 31, 2021.

More than $6.8 million has already been secured toward the purchase, the release states.

Fundraising efforts got off to a strong start in 2020 after the groups locked down a $4 million grant via the U.S. Forest Service’s Legacy Program. The program is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which became permanently funded after the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act — a piece of bi-partisan legislation that aims to support conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance on public lands.

An additional $3 million was covered by other federal and state grants, but FWP and the organizations must come up with a total of $500,000 in non-federal match dollars. The partners have secured about half of that, with roughly $270,000 needed still in order to complete the purchase by the deadline.

The organizations see the online auction as a large step toward closing that gap. And to double the impact of the auction, the news release says three major donors have offered to match up to $100,000 of all donations raised through July 15.

STAKEHOLDERS FEAR if the Bad Rock Canyon Project doesn’t come to fruition the landscape will be bought up by developers and transformed into subdivisions.

“The property is also in a prime location for riverfront homes, should the partners not raise the funds by December to purchase it,” the news release states. “That’s the alternative reality that looms over our rapidly growing valley. If conserved, this land will ensure newcomers and future generations can call this beautiful place home while also enjoying the very landscape and incredible experiences that give Montana its distinctive reputation.”

The Bad Rock project borders 1.6 miles of the Flathead River and contains 700 acres of riparian forest, 80 acres of wetlands and a mile of warm spring creek.

Nearly 200 species of birds call the acreage home and it also serves as a connectivity corridor between the Whitefish and Swan mountain ranges. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Habitat Conservation Biologist Kris Tempel, said the landscape is often used by grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, wolverine, elk and other species.

The landscape also has a hand in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Flathead River and other downstream water resources.

Steve Rosso, a board member with the Flathead Lakers, said “clean melting snow from Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness flows into our rivers, but after it reaches Columbia Falls, it is our responsibility to keep it clean.”

The auction site can be found at charityauction.bid/ForBadRock and individuals may start bidding April 5. For questions about the auction, contact Paul Travis at ptravis@flatheadlandtrust.org.

Donations may be made at the Flathead River to Lake Initiative’s website, or by writing a check to the Flathead Lakers or Flathead Land Trust that indicates the donation is for the Bad Rock Canyon project.

Tours of the property are also scheduled to occur on April 29 and in May. For more information contact Laura Katzman at lkatzman@flatheadlandtrust.org.