John Frederick’s letter to Nicole Stickney of the Montana DNRC regarding the proposal to conduct heli-skiing on state lands in the Whitefish Range appeared in today’s Hungry Horse News in the Letters section . . .
I can sympathize with the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in trying to find money through the school trust lands for Montana schools. It is not easy to balance environmental and social concerns while trying to get big bucks for the schools.
The two proposed locations for heli-skiing in Coal Creek State Forest are rather close to Polebridge. Winona Ridge, one of the proposed landing/skiing sites, is a little less than three and a half miles from Polebridge and roughly parallels the North Fork Road at a distance of 3/8 of a mile to almost a mile away. It is also not a high mountain which means more noise from helicopters. The other proposed, nearby skiing location is Coal Ridge which at the closest point is only four miles southwest of Polebridge.
I hope you can now understand why people become upset about heli-skiing or any frequent use of helicopters any time of the year when it is not an emergency. Most people, both residents and visitors, come to the North Fork for solitude and quiet.
Others have e-mailed you about the strong probability of people and wildlife being harassed by helicopters bringing skiers to places such as Winona Ridge in Coal Creek State Forest. Many other questions remain unanswered about the possibility of local heli-skiing.
What are the models, sizes and occupancies of the helicopters to be used? What are the decibels created by such machines? How far will the sound travel and be heard?
How many flights a day will be allowed? How many skiers? Triple X, one of the applicant helicopter companies, said they flew 260 helicopter flights over Whitefish during the fourth of July weekend. Hardly anyone wants that kind of activity in our state forests.
Would DNRC give permits to other companies who requested a similar permit?
What are the flight patterns? Do the helicopters go directly to the skiing location or do they swing over to Glacier Park for a scenic tour?
Has anyone at DNRC researched the location of bear dens in the vicinity of the flight paths?
How do the skiers return? By snowmobile or helicopter? And what is their route?
How much would you charge the operators of the helicopter skiing for a permit?
Has DNRC researched other locations in Alaska or British Columbia where heli-skiing has already taken place? Are there problems?
Heli-skiing has never been done in the Flathead Valley. Therefore, it might be a good idea to leave the comment period open for a while longer. There is a definite lack of information on the subject at this time.
Look at the Hungry Horse News article last week by Chris Peterson as it reflects the opinions of many North Forkers. There is a link to the article on the North Fork Preservation Association Web site (with new format) at www.gravel.org.
John Frederick of Polebridge is the North Fork Preservation Association president.