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A scenic lake near Troy moved a major step closer to public access and habitat protection this week after the U.S. Forest Service contributed $400,000 to its protection.

“This project has been in the works for a decade,” Vital Ground Foundation lands manager Ryan Lutey said Thursday. “It’s a pretty small patch of ground, but it’s the last remaining private parcel on Alvord Lake.”

The Forest Service’s Community Forest grant helps pay for 143 acres on the east side of the lake. Kootenai National Forest officials made a land exchange in 1990 for 171 acres around its shoreline to maintain public access. Another private landowner acquired the 143-acre parcel and agreed to hold it until it could be transferred to public ownership.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service and Troy community members built an outdoor classroom and public trail around the lake, and the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department worked with partners to create a 28,000-acre Kootenai Valleys Conservation Easement protecting the surrounding landscape.

“It’s in what we call the ‘Troy Doughnut Hole’ of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear recovery zone,” Lutey said. “It’s about a mile outside. But the area is used by a number of sensitive or endangered species, including grizzlies and Canada lynx. While the lake has mostly warm-water fish like bass and sunfish and some pike, it contributes water to the Kootenai River that helps bull trout, redband trout and cutthroat trout.”

The whole project is expected to cost about $1.15 million. Lutey said Vital Ground still needs to raise about $350,000 to complete the deal.

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The Alvord Lake grant was part of a nearly $3.2 million allocation by the Forest Service nationwide for community forest projects.

“These forests are established through place-based support with benefits reaching far beyond the local community,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in an email. “This program conserves key parts of the nation’s forest for future generations, while providing thousands of Americans enhanced access to the great outdoors.”

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Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.