County seeks input on trail plan

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An update of Flathead County’s 2010 trails plan and an interactive countywide trail map is ready for public perusal.

The People, Athletics, Travel, Health and Safety (PATHS) advisory committee has been working on the update for more than a year and is soliciting public comments through September. The plan is available on the county website, https://flathead.mt.gov, on the Planning and Zoning Department page.

The updated plan discusses the vision and goals for the county trails network, trail development, maintenance, funding and the interactive trail map.

Historically, county trail development has not been pursued in an organized manner in terms of administration, implementation and maintenance, the draft plan acknowledges. Existing county trails largely have been developed in response to pressure from local recreational groups and available funding.

The plan recommends that the county commissioners delegate and fund one county board or department to manage the county trail system. The PATHS committee suggests the Park Board may be best-suited for that role, as the board oversees both the county Parks and Recreation Department and PATHS committee.

The plan advises that funding for the trails program “is necessary in order for the work to be prioritized and accomplished.”

While the primary source of trail development and maintenance likely will come from grants and private fundraising, taxpayer funding could be a financial resource if there was documented widespread public support for the trails program, the draft said.

“A property mill tax levy could be used to create a long-term funding source for maintenance and operations,” the draft notes. “Since the county has reached its mill levy ceiling, a general election vote would be necessary to approve an increase in property taxes.”

A special improvement district or park maintenance district could be established to tax residents in defined neighborhoods served by specific trails, the draft further advises.

The commissioners also could ask voters to approve a bond for trail development.

The draft plan suggests adding trail maintenance to the county’s capital improvement plan.

A survey conducted for the plan update found that 45 percent of county residents use trails at least once per week.

Currently the 21.75 miles of county trails are maintained by the county Road and Bridge, and Weeds, Parks and Recreation departments.

Some maintenance, such as snow removal around schools, is contracted out through the Road Department.

More than half of the county trail system is over 10 years old and could need costly repair work in the near future, the draft said. Maintenance costs range from $1,006 per mile for gravel surfaces to $1,971 per mile for asphalt trails, according to state and national data.

After the comment period closes Sept. 30, the draft plan will be presented for final adoption to the county commissioners.

To comment on the draft plan, email planning.zoning@flathead.mt.gov; mail comments to the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department, 40 11th St West Kalispell, MT 59901; or call the department at 406-751-8200.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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