Two state agencies are proposing the purchase of a permanent recreation easement for Big Arm State Park along Flathead Lake.
Big Arm State Park is located on state school trust property that is leased annually by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The park provides a public recreation and lake access site in the Big Arm Bay of Flathead Lake in Lake County approximately 18 miles north of Polson.
It’s one of Montana’s flagship recreation parks and is annually among the top four most heavily used public campgrounds in Montana’s state park system. The park is one of the best access points for boating and angling access on Flathead Lake.
"This has been many, many years in the making," said Dillon Tabish, a spokesman for FWP in Region 1. "It's very exciting and potentially we could buy permanent protection for Big Arm State Park."
FWP has leased the property from DNRC since 1966, with the current annual lease being $24,242 per year. The lease expires March 1, 2020, and upon renewal, DNRC would be required to update the rate to market value, which is expected to be about $403,000 annually.
The potential purchase is the subject of a draft environmental analysis that includes two alternatives. The EA is available for review and open to public input through Dec. 31.
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The first alternative outlines the purchase of the permanent recreation easement for the existing 218-acre park for the appraised value of $8.06 million.
A second option includes the permanent easement purchase, as well as about 23 acres of adjoining state school trust land that would expand the park on its southern boundary, for the appraised value of $10.63 million.
The permanent recreation easement is meant to fulfill DNRC’s mission of generating revenue to support education in Montana, while providing FWP the ability to provide continued management of the property as a public recreation and lake access facility.
FWP would pay full market value of the property for a permanent recreation easement. Funding would come from a variety of state, federal and private sources, including FWP’s general license account, Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson federal aid, state parks earned revenue, Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust.
The 2019 Montana Legislature approved House Bill 695, which authorizes FWP to spend up to $12 million to purchase a permanent recreation easement on the Big Arm site from DNRC.
The public comment period will extend for 30 days, and close at 5 p.m., Jan. 3. Written comments can be submitted to Montana FWP Region 1, Attn: Big Arm Permanent Easement Proposal – Parks Division, 490 N. Meridian Road, Kalispell, MT 59901.