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Bigfork community fights for lake access

By Paige Sedgewick, Reporter, psedgewick@kcfw.com
Published On: Apr 10 2014 06:35:32 PM MDT
Updated On: Apr 10 2014 07:03:00 PM MDT
BIGFORK, Mont. -

We're tracking a controversy over the only access on the north side of Flathead Lake by Bigfork.

Right now, people can use a path to get to the water thanks to an easement across private property in an area off Holt Road on the Northside of Flathead Lake. 

"Last year, the land owner posted 'no trespassing' signs on this right of way and it's been used for decades by the public," said David Hadden.

It made Hadden so mad that he started an online petition drive, hoping to make sure the public doesn't lose access to the path.

The path lies on the border between two properties and provides the only year-round access for the public from Holt Drive to Flathead Lake.

People walk there thanks to an easement. On one side of the easement is private property and on the other side is state land.

The wild refuge on state land is open to the public, but only part of the year. The private property owner put up trespassing signs to keep people off his land. Trouble is he mismarked what was his.

"Bigfork raised the money to do a survey and we accurately located the right-of-way. Then we contacted the county and said 'We have this information, can you tell the landowner he's mismarked the right of way,'" said Hadden.

NBC Montana reached out to the owner of the property but he didn't want to say anything on the record. But people are worried he's trying to take what's theirs.

"This is public access and people in Montana treasure their public access to water and public lands. So his actions are not very Bigtork, they're not very community. They certainly aren't Montana values," said Hadden.

For now, the state is trying to come up with a compromise between the public, the state and the landowner. But petition backers hope their 800-plus signatures will make their message clear, and to the landowner.