New bird viewing area opens this fall

September 27, 2018

Behind the efforts of more than 80 partners and contributors from the Flathead Valley community, a new bird and wildlife viewing area will be open to the public in the West Valley this fall.

The opening of the public bird viewing area will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 6.

Space is limited and those that want to attend are asked to RSVP to Laura Katzman at lkatzman@flatheadlandtrust.org or 752-8293.

Food will also be served. Those that sign up will be shuttled from West Valley School to the site on West Valley Drive, just north of Reserve Drive.

There will be no parking at the event site because a tent will be set up in the limited parking area.

Those in attendance will hear how the viewing area was developed. It is being hosted by Flathead Land Trust, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Flathead Audubon. The event will be to thank supporters and view sandhill cranes as they fly in to roost in the pothole wetland at sunset.

Attendees will be able to view sandhill cranes as they fly in to roost in the wetland at sunset.

This public viewing area overlooks a unique pothole wetland surrounded by agricultural land that is part of the only known staging area for sandhill cranes in the Flathead Valley.

Hundreds of sandhill cranes use this area of the West Valley each fall to rest and refuel on their annual migration from nesting grounds in Canada to wintering areas in the southern U.S. The sandhill cranes roost in the pothole wetlands at night and feed in the adjoining agricultural fields during the day. The area is also used by more than 150 species of other birds including tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds each spring.

Flathead Land Trust recently completed conservation easements with the Grosswiler and Marvin families to conserve almost 400 acres of this critical area and provide for the public viewing area. Under the conservation easements, the land will remain in private ownership and continue to be farmed and managed by the landowner while protecting the valuable bird and wildlife habitat in perpetuity.

The families have been farming in the West Valley for more than 100 years and the conservation project will preserve their agricultural legacy.

“Continuing farming in my great-grandpa’s honor is very meaningful to me, but more so, to know my children can continue that tradition so we will have multiple generations living his legacy is incredible,” said Tanner Marvin, who lives on the conserved property.

Conservation easements do not always allow public access; however, the Grosswiler and Marvin families have generously allowed for a quarter acre of the conserved land to be used as a public viewing area. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks saw the project as a positive way to accommodate the increasing demands for safe and easily accessible wildlife viewing opportunities for all ages. The agency helped facilitate the project by accepting a quarter-acre public easement for the viewing area and road.

The viewing area will serve as an educational site for local schools and other groups. It is ideally situated only about two miles from the city of Kalispell and close to 26 schools, including the Flathead Valley Community College.

“This incredible project wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t received such a huge outpouring of support from this community,” said Paul Travis, Flathead Land Trust executive director. “We are beyond grateful and it’s so exciting to know that this ecological and community treasure will continue to be here for so many generations of people and birds to come.”

Two large federal grants from the Natural Resource Conservation Service and North American Wetland Conservation Act provided most of the funding needed to complete the conservation project. The landowners donated over a third of the value of the project in a bargain sale.

In order to qualify to receive the federal funding, $150,000 in non-federal match was needed. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Flathead Audubon, the AGL Foundation, Montana’s Outdoor Legacy Fund, Montana Ducks Unlimited, Flathead Pheasants Forever, the International Crane Foundation and nearly 70 individuals donated to the project.

Other supporters of the project include the Whitefish Community Foundation, Flathead Beacon Foundation, Applied Materials Foundation and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Mitigation Fund.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Flathead Valley Community College, Quail Roost Foundation, Flathead Audubon, and Flathead Electric funded the construction of the bird-viewing area.

The bird-viewing area is open to the public.

To get to the bird-viewing area go three miles west on Reserve from the intersection with U.S. 93 and then one mile north on West Valley Drive. It is signed on the east side of the road.

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