The Flathead National Forest is processing a flurry of requests for outfitting and shuttle services this winter, with proposals ranging from guided snow-bike, snowmobiling, skiing and snow-shoe tours to therapeutic “forest bathing.”
Officials with the Flathead National Forest (FNF) are soliciting public input on requests for nine temporary special-use permits authorizing outfitting and guiding activities from approximately Dec. 1, 2023, through May 15, 2024. According to a news release announcing the proposals, each request meets the criteria to receive a special-use permit under a categorical exclusion, which is the least-intensive form of environmental review.
Eight of the proposed special uses have been approved for one-year permits in the past; however, each proposal requires approval on an annual basis. One new proposal by Glacier Nordic Club is also under review.
[Updated original April 30 post on May 3 to incorporate various “The Last Best Ride” errata.] The Flathead National Forest has released a “Special Uses Scoping Letter” dated April 26 (PDF, 194KB) discussing this year’s batch of pending Special Use Permits (SUP’s). There has been no press release yet. I suspect we’ll see one next week.
I have had no opportunity to do a deep dive yet, but there are ten SUP’s that affect the North Fork to a greater or lesser extent. I have highlighted those items in the scoping letter and added links to their project documentation. They range from the usual collection of hiking, biking and motorized activities, to a trail run up Nasukoin Mountain, and a late-September marathon from Big Creek to Columbia Falls. Details, including maps, are posted on the forest’s “Projects” page: https://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/flathead/landmanagement/projects. The cover letter lists contact information for comments and inquiries.
Note that most of the project permits impacting the North Fork are not being handled by Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger District personnel. Also note that the Forest Service is only responsible for activities occurring on their lands – the marathon, for instance, is mostly a city/county/state issue.
Heads up! It is Forest Service special use permit time again. Some of you may recall the kerfuffle over this last year, particularly when it came to guided ATV tours. There are a few more requests this year. There is a May 12 deadline for responses.
Here is an extract from a very useful note sent by Rob Davies, Hungry Horse/Glacier View District Ranger, that provides more focus on the projects affecting the North Fork . . .
This is a fairly large list of proposals for this summer. We are at the start of an open public comment period. Comment period closes May 12th. No decisions have been made at this point and we are seeking comments and concerns. This is being released to the local media today. Maps and descriptions have been posted on our web site.
The proposed Recreation Events and proposed guiding that would affect the North Fork area are:
Adventure Cycling Tours
Bike Adventure Bike tours
Pancake Ride bicycle event
Spotted Dog Guided bike tours
Snow Bike Nation (e-bikes)
Other than potential e-bike guiding on open FS motorized roads, and van shuttles (Whitefish Shuttle) delivering people to trail heads or just providing van tours, there are no motorized activities proposed such as UTV/ATV guiding in the North Fork.
Thank you for your interest and please respond through the official process outlined on our web site if you have concerns.
NW Adventures, ATV Guiding, I have decided to not issue a permit in the North Fork based on comments received during scoping. This company will still be permitted and operate on the West side of the Whitefish divide with one exception, they will be allowed to take clients to Red Meadow Lake and depart back to the West. They will not be allowed to travel beyond Red Meadow Lake and they will not be able to take clients to Red Meadow Lake on weekends or Holidays. Due to the COVID situation they are not expected to have as many clients as they were hoping for in their proposal.
Whitefish Shuttles. Van tours and livery service to several trail heads, short hikes and bike tour in the North Fork will be permitted. They expect much reduced numbers of clients and trips due to the COVID situation.
Cycling House, Bicycling tours cancelled due to COVID.
Adventure Cycling, Bicycle tours, cancelled due to COVID.
Spotted Dog Cycles: Bicycle tours cancelled due to COVID.
Two of the five permits that were proposed in The North Fork will be issued this year, and they are only valid for 1 season. The proponents would have to reapply if they wish to operate next year.
For those of you interested in more information about the Forest Service special use permits being considered for touring and guiding in the North Fork, Rob Davies passed along a very useful “summary of the routes, maps, dates, and service days that folks asked about at the meeting last Tuesday night.“ (Note that Rob must be working some long hours. I got his email a little after 930pm yesterday evening.)