Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, the newest section of the Whitefish Trail is officially open.
Beginning at the Reservoir Trailhead, the trail runs through Haskill Basin from just off Reservoir Road up to the Big Mountain Trailhead on the Whitefish Trail.
About 100 people showed up for the dedication last week, which got a blessing from the day’s rough weather as well.
“It was great, we were setting up in a hailstorm, and then right at 6 p.m. the sun came out for maybe an hour and a half, let us do the ceremony and start the barbecue as people were leaving it started raining again so it was pretty perfect timing,” Whitefish Legacy Partners Director of Development Alan Myers-Davis said.
The Reservoir Trail adds 5.5 miles of new trails connecting Whitefish to Whitefish Mountain Resort. The trail was completed in 2017, but signage and other finishing touches remained to be finished until last week. Phase 1 of construction on the trail was funded by the Land, Water, and Conservation Fund, the Montana Recreation Trails Program, the Forest Service Resource Advisory Council and local community donors.
Myers-Davis said while trail counters have yet to be installed at the Reservoir Trailhead, he can already tell hikers are excited.
“Certainly the buzz around town is that we’ve got this awesome trail now that’s literally just steps from town, so from what we’ve heard just around town is people are pumped for it,” he said. “When we were pulling up to set up the ceremony, the parking lot was half full. People are using it a lot, and we expect more and more this summer.”
Currently the most popular section of the Whitefish Trail is the Lion Mountain trail. Myers-Davis said WLP is curious to see how much of that traffic the new trailhead will attract.
One reason people may choose the reservoir section of the trail over others is due to its park-like feel, Myers-Davis said.
“It’s the first trailhead that’s not on state property, it’s on city of Whitefish property and that’s allowed us to do some more things that we wouldn’t have done on state property,” he said. “The reservoir trail has more of a park like feel to it. There’s picnic tables, there’s benches, we’ve installed an ADA interpretive loop. It’s very different from our other trailheads in that it’s not just a place to park and access the trail, it’s also a place to hang out and spend some time with friends and family.”
The interpretive loop features signs talking about the Haskill watershed and, surprisingly, details of the old homestead found in the area when trail construction began.
Among other things, an old historic chimney, a gun and a hatchet were recovered and are noted in the interpretive loop.
The trail also features what is being called the “new valley overlook,” a vantage point about a mile and a half up the trail.
“We also last week installed a new bench up there similar to the Skyles Overlook. Basically you’re looking back down toward Whitefish and you can see Whitefish Lake off to your right and views of the Swan Range to your left and all the Flathead Valley. It’s a pretty unique perspective, that mid-mountain view you don’t really get until you get up on Chair 1 and turn around,” he said.
The Whitefish Trail is the anchor project of Whitefish Legacy Partners and the result of collaborative partnerships. To date, Whitefish Legacy Partners and the city have established over 42 miles of a recreational trail system accessed by 12 trailheads.