Saturday, July 20, 2024

Flathead Land Trust stewards Harrell Forest project in 2022

Bigfork Eagle | February 9, 2022 12:00 AM

The Flathead Land Trust is working on developing a parcel of land right behind downtown Bigfork into about four miles of trails that could be used to create a larger connected trail system in the future.

The Harrell Forest Project started when Alan Horn and Cindy-Harrell Horn donated the 236 acres of land to the Trust For Public Land, a national organization dedicated to preserving land for public use. FLT Executive Director Paul Travis said the intention behind the Horne’s donation was the hope that the land could be used for a community recreation purpose. FLT is managing the project for the Trust For Public Land, which will officially turn over ownership of the property to them by the end of this year or early 2023. Travis said FLT partners with the Trust For Public Land often, as the organization has an office in Bozeman and has overseen many land conservation projects around the Flathead Valley.

“The reason they came to us when they decided to gift this property is because we’re the local community-based land trust… we certainly do a lot of conserving private lands, but we also do some of these community projects that benefit the public, like trails and having public access. They thought we would be a good fit and we agreed— so we’re off to the races,” Travis said.

The FLT is in the beginning stages of this project. They have also been working with another partner, the Montana Land Reliance, who owns an easement on a portion of the Harrell Forest Property. Travis said they are working to include their parcel of land into the project as well. He said background work on the project is being completed nearly everyday, but construction and trail development won’t start until the fall. The project is slated to be finished and open to the public by early summer in 2023.

“We’ve been working with another entity to create a trails plan, and we’re in the process of reviewing that right now, and kind of tweaking it and deciding which way we want to go there, and that includes what will be a proposed trailhead, most likely on the west side of the property alongside Bigfork Stage Rd. So those are things that will be defined in greater detail in the coming months,” Travis said.

The property will encompass around four to four-and-a-half miles of trails. Travis said though the trails plan is not finalized yet, they know that many of the trails will loop together. There will be some elevation gain as the trails climb-up the mountain, but for the most part, they will not be steep, and anyone with hiking or biking ability will be able to easily use the trails.

“If someone is looking for a really steep downhill mountain biking trail, these probably aren’t going to be the ones for them. So more family related, or people who like to run, or just hike out in nature without having to climb 5,000 vertical feet,” Travis said.

The trails will be easily accessible from downtown Bigfork. Travis said there will be a parking area on the west side of the property that borders Bigfork Stage Rd., but it could be just as easy to get to for someone who wants to bike there from town.

“Even though it is so close to town, because it’s stayed intact over the years and hasn’t been developed, you know it really retains a piece of forested land that’s close to town that people can recreate on. You’re not going to go up there and see houses, because there aren’t any houses on the property itself, of course there are some adjacent to it, nonetheless, it’s a fairly large sized property at 236 acres,” Travis said. although the property borders some

Another advantage to the property is how it could be connected to other trail systems going forward. Travis said one of their goals as long-term stewards of the project is to provide this kind of connectivity. The Swan River Nature Trail is one system that is close in proximity to the Harrell Forest, Travis said one of the hopes of the FLT is to look at some of these opportunities and start reaching out to parties involved after their project is completed.

“That would be a goal, certainly a big objective for anyone doing this project to provide those trail connections...How can we provide greater connections to this trail system and others throughout the Bigfork area,” Travis said.

The idea of an interconnected trail system in Bigfork was discussed at a meeting that took place in late November. The meeting was hosted by Montana Access Project Founder Diane Conradi and Flathead Lake State Park Manager Amy Grout, who said the goal of the meeting was to start conversations about these upcoming projects and see if any opportunities for collaboration or connectivity were possible. The FLT, alongside representatives from the Trust For Public Land and the Montana Land Reliance, gave a presentation about the Harrell Forest project to the crowd of community members, National Forest and Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials among others.

Travis said along with opportunities to create a larger connected trail system, in the future he hopes the Harrell Forest could be used for educational purposes. This could include getting Bigfork Schools involved, which is in very close proximity to the property.

“We’re not ready to propose that yet, but we want different ways for the community to be involved and engaged on that property. Whether it be naturalist hikes or educational programs, it’s going to be going beyond recreation on a trail system, we want to do more with it,” Travis said.

To find out more about Flathead Land Trust, visit their website at

Correction: Originally referred to Alan and Cindy Horn as "The Horne family." This article has been updated to include the correct spelling of their names.