By Brian Baxter
The east face of the east Cabinet Mountains is a cold and snowy area during winter. Snowfall amounts are deep on average, and duration of snow cover is long lasting on north and east aspects. Near the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness border, Leigh Creek rushes by a forest of western red cedar, western hemlock, grand fir, Doug-fir, and western white pine. Mountain maple line the steep banks, and bearberry, bear grass, Prince’s pine, and pachistima cover the ground. This area where Leigh, Smearl, Deep, No, Snow, Granite, and Flower Creeks roll out of the wilderness is a funnel for wildlife. Canadian lynx silently creep along hunting snowshoe hare, and occasionally a young male wolverine kicked out of a territory dominated by an older male might wander through.
The Greater Libby Area Trails Plan has some great ideas for winter recreation in this location. The Kootenai River Development Council, through the Lincoln County Port Authority administers the grant for this project. Organizations involved include: U.S. Forest Service; Cabinet Back Country Horsemen; Cabinet Peaks Medical Center; Cabinet View Golf Club; City of Libby; Friends of Scotchman Peaks; Kootenai Cross Country Ski Club; Kootenai Mountain Riders; Libby Chamber of Commerce; Libby Parks District; Lincoln County; and Montana Wilderness Association.
The plan describes recreational opportunities for existing trails, connections, and will also serve as a guide for future recreational expansion. The groups’ goals are to establish a recreational planning position, identify trail networks, trails in progress, and potential gaps. Also to create trail maps, identify opportunities, provide a list of funding sources, and serve as support system for grant applications and funding. One of the major goals is to offer an opportunity for regional economic development, tourism, community revitalization and health.
Towards these goals, the Kootenai Cross Country Ski Club has stepped up to the plate. This group applies for and directs funding grants for a visitors center/ maintenance building, and to pave 0.5 miles of looped trail systems.
In recent years, these folks have developed their focus on a multiple use program that includes school programs, recreational and competitive events. They have been working hard on building, improving, and finishing Nordic Trails and a Biathlon Range to combine the skills of cross country skiing and marksmanship. They have also started a ski team, and they host a Youth Nordic Race.
The trails plan and the cross country ski club are also focusing on a Snowshoe Connection Loop, which will provide snowshoers with a quiet, peaceful snowshoe route where they can exercise, track animals, take pictures and enjoy lunch.
The goals of these groups align with the office of tourism’s strategic goals that include economic benefits, preserving quality of life, accenting natural resources, and maintaining a lifestyle of ”Montana Outdoors.” To view this plan on line, go to www.krdc.net/images/projects/PDF.
Imagine the benefits of having these ski trails, snowshoe connections, and a biathlon course. Not only will we be even more unique in many ways, but we’ll have hosting ability for competitive events and draw visitors interested in such an awesome winter recreation area. Along with Turner Mountain Ski Area, our many ice fishing derbies, local snowmobile trails, and our friendly residents, who could ask for more? And how about our local quality of life? It doesn’t get much better than taking the young folks out for a snowshoe trip, tracking exotic animals, and listening to the call of a Northern Pygmy Owl while breathing crisp mountain air.
Photo of new Flower Creek trails biathlon sign by Brian Baxter, The Montanian