Budget cuts force winter closure of state parks on Whitefish Lake

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Big Mountain and Whitefish Lake as seen from Whitefish Lake State Park. (Pilot file photo)

Whitefish Lake and Les Mason State Parks will be closed to vehicle traffic for the winter beginning Dec. 1.

The closures are the result of budget cuts for fiscal year 2018, according to a release issued by Montana State Parks last week. Winter road maintenance will also be discontinued or reduced at several northwestern Montana State Parks also beginning Dec. 1.

“This is about saving money,” Amy Grout, Park Manager for Flathead Lake State Park, said Monday. “We looked at where we could make cuts when there is the least visitation.”

Grout said there a number of expenses at the parks that can’t be impacted — electric bills or purchasing trash bags — but plowing and winter maintenance is an area where money can be saved. She noted that it takes a significant amount of travel and manpower expense to plow and sand roads in the parks.

“Where it comes down to is there is a cost to stay open,” she said. “We can’t close in the summer, and the spring and fall have a lower maintenance cost [than winter.]”

The amount of snow received in Whitefish during the winter and a lesser number of visitors to the state parks here compared to other parks were factors in the decision to completely close Whitefish Lake and Les Mason, Grout said. Both parks will remain open to walk-in visitors.

A three-year average of winter visitation for both parks, shows that about 1,000 people came to the parks in December, about 2,100 visited in January and about 1,800 came in February.

Winter road maintenance will be discontinued at the West Shore and Big Arm units of Flathead Lake State Park. At West Shore, the park will remain open to walk-in traffic only due to the steep nature of the roads in to the park.

Lone Pine State Park in Kalispell will see reduced winter road maintenance and the Valley View Drive parking lot being closed for the winter. Plowing will be discontinued at the Foys Lake portion of Lone Pine, but the Flathead County Parks and Recreation access site at Foys Lake will remain open. The Lone Pine Visitor Center parking lot will remain open for winter recreation.

Logan State Park on Middle Thompson Lake west of Kalispell will remain open for use, but roads will not be maintained for winter travel.

Grout said the parks that are more heavily used are the ones that will see winter road maintenance, and those that can safely be traveled with unplowed roads will remain open.

For more information on winter recreation at these state parks, contact Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks at 752-5501.

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