When Leslie Gray purchased her little piece of Blacktail Mountain in 1988, the place was a wonderful environment"quiet and peaceful." Now, she says, the forest above Lakeside has become a "dumping ground." Motorists ignore the residential speed limit. There's garbage in and around Stoner Creek. There are poachers, keggers, weeds.
And, if the Swan Lake Ranger District green-lights its latest recreation proposal, there will be ATVs and motorcycles, too.
The Flathead National Forest is taking a bit of heat in the Lakeside community over the Island Unit Trail System Additions Project. The proposal, initiated in 2009 to diversify the area's public trail system, includes opening 34 miles of backcountry roads and trails to motorized use. That's just one of a number of trail expansion proposals affecting all user types, motor or no. But it's the one causing the most trouble.
"The tremendous amount of use we now see up there is impacting the wildlife," Gray says. "If you have ATVs and motorcycles running around the woods, I can only imagine what the outcome of that will be."
The district says that the availability of motorized trails on the Flathead has declined in recent years, mostly due to environmental considerations such as grizzly bear recovery. That includes roughly 60 miles of motorcycle trails on the Swan Range. "These decisions have reduced the amount of motorized trail opportunities forest-wide," the Island Unit proposal states, "which may have led to displacement of motorized uses, as well as unauthorized/unmanaged motorized use."
But Gray feels officials are now simply "kow-towing to special interest groups, specifically ATV and motorcycle clubs," she says. "It's throwing the dog a bone. 'Hey, here's Blacktail.'"
Gray's not alone. Neighbors, conservationists and non-motorized users such as hikers and horseback riders voiced their own concerns at a town hall meeting earlier this spring. Now Gray is attempting to bring them together as some sort of Blacktail Mountain conservation group. They're willing to do "whatever it takes," she says.
"We will be filing an administrative appeal if they proceed with this project... There's going to be significant impacts on the environment, the wildlife and the residents."