Flathead Lake will soon gain a new state park and one of Missoula’s parks will be upgraded, thanks to money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Sen. Jon Tester’s office this week announced the senator had backed a successful request for $1.3 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund State and Local Assistance Program to help Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks buy about 105 acres on the northern shore of Flathead Lake near Somers.

“I am proud to have helped secure this funding, and I look forward to continuing our work to ensure these lands – and the outdoor recreation economy that depends on them – will remain open to the public for generations to come,” Tester said in a press release.

Daines offered his own statement.

"This is great news and all thanks to the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. Now, more Montanans and visitors will be able to enjoy Flathead Lake and Montana’s natural beauty."

The Sliter family has owned the property since the 1930s and has long allowed the public to use the beach that runs along a half-mile of shoreline. A decade ago, the family decided to put the land in public hands so they reached out to the Flathead Land Trust and FWP to see if it could be turned into a state park.

In December, FWP brought the proposal to the State Land Board, which gave the Somers Beach Park a thumbs-up as long as enough money could be raised to buy it. The waterfront property was appraised at a hefty $2.745 million.

FWP had already submitted an application for LWCF funding in October, which provides half of the money needed to buy for recreational land. While waiting for the yearlong LWCF application process to conclude, FWP and two nonprofit organizations started raising the other half of the purchase price.

The Sliter family created a matching grant of $100,000 for the Montana Parks Foundation to use to raise another $100,000 for park maintenance. The family put up another $25,000 matching grant for the Flathead Land Trust to raise an additional $25,ooo. In the meantime, donors have been adding to the pot, said FWP Region 1 Parks Manager Dave Landstrom.

“LWCF has been such an important piece of our recreational acquisitions for a long, long time. It’s been a really valuable tool. It’s a 50:50 grant, so we’ve got to find that other 50%. That’s where all the hard work comes in,” Landstrom said. “The good thing about this project is there’s super strong support for additional access on Flathead Lake. And this is a site the public has enjoyed by the graciousness of the family, and it’s become a community fixture. People were concerned about preserving that access, and it sure looks like that’s going to happen.”

Flathead Land Trust Land Protection Specialist Laura Katzman confirmed that they’ve been successful in collecting the full amount to buy the land, now that the LWCF money is on its way. The Flathead Land Trust was also able to raise more money than was needed to match the Sliter family grant.

“It’s not quite a done deal, but it’s pretty close,” Katzman said. “We’ll be making an announcement in the near future.”

Once the sale closes, Somers Beach will be the seventh state park and the fourteenth public access on Flathead Lake.

Tester’s office said the LWCF would be granting another $472,500 to help clean up and renovate Missoula’s Westside Park on Scott Street near Lowell Grade School. The renovation project will remove the old playground, basketball court and asphalt walkways and replace them with a concrete playground pod, new playground toys, a multi-use paved court, new paved paths and landscape improvements.

A year ago, the Great American Outdoors Act was passed, permanently funding the LWCF at $900 million a year. Money for the fund comes from royalties on offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. The State and Local Assistance allocation for each state is based upon population. Montana was allocated $2.645 million for fiscal year 2021.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.