At Flathead Lake, where public access is greatly limited and land for sale along the 185 miles of shoreline is nearly impossible to find, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking into the possible purchase of a privately owned 15-acre parcel on the west shore after the agency was approached by the property owner.
At a Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Thursday, officials gave the OK for the agency to move forward in its discussions with the landowner and to pursue other initial steps in the purchasing process, such as preparing an environmental assessment and seeking public comment.
The site is located off U.S. 93 along the lakeshore near Dayton in Lake County. The parcel of land would “adequately provide parking and include a boat ramp and vault latrine,” according to an FWP notice.
The property is also an ideal shove-off point for Wild Horse Island State Park, an increasingly popular destination on Flathead Lake. It would also “provide lake access for anglers in an area that provides good fisheries for lake trout, lake whitefish and yellow perch.”
Should the purchase occur, the fishing access site would join a handful of other locations on the west shore, including those in the Elmo, Big Arm and Somers areas. A new access point could also help alleviate some of the congestion that has been experienced at other sites in recent years, particularly during Montana’s busy summer months.
For example, at the Somers Fishing Access about 20 miles north of the property in Dayton, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park statistics show more than 48,500 vehicles used the site in 2018. The number is a 32% increase from 2014, and officials anticipate traffic won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
In August, the fishing access manager for FWP Region 1, Tony Powell, told the Daily Inter Lake, “in the busiest months of the summer — June, July and August — we’re counting 350 cars per day coming through there, so you see where the problem lies. There’s 28 parking spots and 250 cars per day. You just can’t fit everybody.”
Powell had also suggested that people travel to access points in Elmo and elsewhere to avoid the crowds and said “we’d [FWP] love to pick up more access point along the lake, but it’s hard to find and when you do find it, it’s incredibly expensive.”
As for the property in Dayton, price and funding opportunities will also be evaluated by the agency in the coming months.
The Commission’s approval for FWP to proceed with the acquisition is the second stride this week made toward increasing access at Flathead Lake.
Wednesday, several state agencies announced the release of a draft environmental assessment detailing possibilities for FWP’s purchase of a permanent recreation easement for Big Arm State Park.
Region 1 Manager, Dave Landstrom, said the assessment is a huge leap toward the agency’s longtime goal to buy the easement from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Buying the 218-acre park means FWP will ensure the area remains a public recreation hot spot and lake access point for years to come.