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Forest officials eye potential projects

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | March 19, 2021 7:00 AM

The Kootenai National Forest is set to receive another boost in federal funding courtesy of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Nine projects within the forest — and a total of 54 across the state — are set to receive funding in fiscal year 2021 through the act. The U.S. Forest Service received a total of $285 million to address more than 500 infrastructure improvement projects across the nation this year.

Recreationalists in the Kootenai can expect to see renovations to trails, boat launches, campsites and wastewater systems, according to a list of projects published by the Forest Service.

At Ross Creek Cedars, officials anticipate building a boardwalk on the nature trail. The walkway would improve access for recreationists and protect cedar groves and other vegetation from foot traffic. The recreation site could also see toilet replacements and an expanded parking area. The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners have issued a letter of support for the project.

At the Rexford Bench Recreation Area, the most highly developed campground in the forest, officials anticipate replacing more than 1,600 feet of pressure septic line, 1,600 feet of water line and a water chlorination system. The renovations would put a stop to periodic system closures at the campground due to failures and leaks. Forest Service officials would partner with local officials in Rexford to complete the water and septic management project.

During the next five years, officials anticipate bringing trails throughout the Kootenai up to national standards. Using funds from the Great American Outdoors Act, the Forest Service could tackle 65 miles of deferred maintenance each year. Improvements to trails would keep soil erosion and noxious weeds at bay. Open and well-maintained trails also could boost visitor satisfaction and improve trail-based tourism in the area.

The Forest Service may also undertake phased improvements to cabins and lookout sites throughout the forest. According to a plan listed in the proposed project list, workers would focus on painting, replacing roofs, fixing shutters and upgrading electrical components during the first year.

Workers could reconstruct several campsites using Great American Outdoors funding. Forest Service officials have identified 11 sites across the Kootenai in need of extensive maintenance. As part of the project, the Forest Service would conduct dust and vegetation abatements.

The refurbished campgrounds would boast improved facilities, including spurs to accommodate RVs and paved roads. The project could potentially include partnerships with contractors and local counties.

To bring campfire sites up to date, Forest Service officials plan to allocate dollars toward replacing damaged or missing steel fire rings on a regular basis. This project would replace 50 rings annually and would improve accessibility and safety for campers.

The upgrades would also reduce the risk of wildland fires. The Forest Service could partner with the Youth Conservation Corps, Montana Conservation Corps and other volunteers to carry out the work.

Picnic tables and toilet facilities throughout the forest are likely to be overhauled. Forest Service officials anticipate replacing 10 tables and 700 table planks a year. Workers may replace five old toilets and repair five aging toilets annually as well. By improving campsites, Forest Service officials anticipate a potential boost in tourism for Lincoln County.

Boat launches throughout the forest may receive upgrades thanks to funding from the act. In the project list, Forest Service officials said four aging docks and one dock that burnt in 2020 would be renovated.

The Great American Outdoors Act, guided through Congress with the help of Montana’s congressional delegation, sets aside $3 billion annually for conservation efforts, outdoor recreation and the maintenance of national parks and public lands.

The legislation permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year. Over the next five years, $9.5 billion from the fund will go into overdue maintenance projects on federal lands.