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Forest Service plans dozens of maintenance projects in Montana

by CHAD SOKOL & KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | March 17, 2021 2:40 AM

The U.S. Forest Service has finalized a long list of overdue maintenance projects to be launched this year, including 54 in Montana.

The projects include trail maintenance, road resurfacing and extensive repairs of visitor facilities in the Kootenai and Flathead national forests. The projects received funding under the Great American Outdoors Act that Montana's senators helped shepherd through Congress last year.

The landmark conservation law includes two major prongs. It permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year with royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling. And it provides up to $9.5 billion over the next five years for overdue or "deferred" maintenance of national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

The Forest Service is a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other public lands projects funded by the Great American Outdoors Act will be carried out by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

A news release from the Kootenai National Forest this week said the projects "will address critical deferred maintenance and improve transportation and recreation infrastructure on national forests in the northern region."

Work on the Flathead National Forest includes:

Road work and slope stabilization: The Forest Service will replace 12 miles of the deteriorating Mead Creek Road, which provides access to numerous destinations including the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Meadow Creek campground and trailhead along the South Fork. The agency also will stabilize slopes to ensure the road is wide enough.

Rental cabin maintenance: This project will "comprehensively address deferred maintenance that cannot be covered by fees" for the forest's 16 rental cabins. "The proposal includes a range of maintenance and improvement needs such as roof replacements, window replacement, septic tank repairs, replacing heaters, kitchen cabinets, countertops and appliances."

Trail maintenance: Forest Service seasonal employees, along with volunteers, youth groups and other partners, will perform maintenance work on more than 340 miles of trails in the Tally Lake and Swan Lake ranger districts and the Mission Mountain Wilderness. The work will be done over five years.

Bob Marshall Wilderness access improvement: The Forest Service will replace 14.5 miles of gravel surfacing on Spotted Bear River Road (Forest Road 568), which provides primary access to the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The agency said the project will reduce erosion, make the road safer and improve visitor access. The contract will be awarded to a local business.

Summit interpretive display upgrade: The Forest Service will replace the interpretive displays at its nature center inside the Summit House on Big Mountain. The nature center receives more than 14,000 visitors annually, and the current displays are 25 years old, according to the Forest Service. "Modernizing the displays will make them more accessible to all visitors," the agency said.

Water and wastewater system maintenance: Over three years, the Forest Service will perform maintenance work on water and wastewater systems at the forest's 12 recreation sites. Projects slated for this year include designs for the Holland Lake, Tally Lake and Devil Creek campgrounds. The project includes system upgrades to meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, improves security of water/wastewater systems and prevents failure and system closures.

River access site maintenance: Over three years, the Forest Service will perform maintenance work at each of the system's 14 developed river access sites. The agency said the Flathead Rivers Alliance will "help prioritize work and identify volunteer opportunities" to support the work. "The project includes gravel and asphalt maintenance, brushing, striping, boat ramp reconstruction and minor traffic flow improvements."

Work in the Kootenai National Forest includes:

Trail and parking lot improvements: The Forest Service will construct a boardwalk on Ross Creek Cedars Nature Trail, one of the most popular sites in the forest. The agency said the project, which received widespread community support, will improve access and create a "sustainable recreation opportunity to protect natural resources." The boardwalk will protect cedar trees and vegetation from high visitation and define the route of the nature trail.

Boat launch and dock replacements: The Forest Service will replace five docks that do not meet accessibility standards and repair boat launches throughout the forest to provide safe water access.

Water and wastewater system reconstruction: The project will replace septic and water lines and a water chlorination system in a 50-year-old water and wastewater plant in the Rexford Bench Recreation Complex. The Forest Service said the new system will "eliminate periodic system closures due to failure and leaks." The agency plans to partner with the city of Rexford for water and septic management.

Fire ring replacement: The Forest Service will collaborate with organizations and volunteers to replace damaged or missing steel fire rings that do not meet accessibility standards across the forest. The agency said the project, which aims to replace 50 fire rings annually, will "improve public safety, increase visitor enjoyment and reduce potential for wildland fires that impact forest conditions."

Trail maintenance and improvements: Over five years, the Forest Service and partners will perform maintenance work on about 65 miles of trails each year to bring them in line with national standards. The project will reduce soil erosion, noxious weeds and other impacts.

Toilet replacement and repair: The project will update or replace 10 aging toilet facilities across the forest. Some will be replaced with vault toilet facilities.

Recreation site, cabin and lookout maintenance: Over five years, the Forest Service and other organizations will perform maintenance work at various recreation sites, rental cabins and lookouts across Sanders and Lincoln counties, to meet current standards. Tasks will include painting, fixing shutters, replacing roofs and upgrading electrical components.

Campground reconstruction: The Forest Service said it will reconstruct 11 campsites that have "extensive deferred maintenance" issues. The process will include vegetation plans and dust abatement.

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com