The U.S. Forest Service approved a special use permit Tuesday for one of two controversial trail running races scheduled in the Flathead Valley later this year. Critics are disappointed, but not surprised.
The Whitefish Legacy Partners Legacy Race, a 50 kilometer ultramarathon, was approved by the Flathead National Forest earlier this spring.
But the permit was put on hold after environmental groups raised concerns about potential conflicts with grizzly bears and other wildlife. The Forest then opened a week-long comment period, but ultimately re-approved the permit Tuesday.
Tally Lake District Ranger Bill Mulholland says the race is taking place near Whitefish Mountain on trails used for recreation daily.
“We feel that there’s a lot of discussion about bears and trails and running on trails," Mulholland said. "We feel that having this kind of group event in a concentrated area like the ski area is a good use of the trail system that’s up there.”
Keith Hammer with the Swan View Coalition says permitting the race sets a bad precedent for the approval of other events.
“The Flathead is going to reward it’s trail building partners with special use permits for ultramarathon racing, they’re going to issue special use permits for to their bike trail building partners to run bike races as well and those are going to be in places where they’re building trails other than ski areas,” Hammer said.
The Forest Service also opened public comment on the Foy’s to Blacktail Marathon set to take place south of Kalispell in September. The Forest Service is set to issue a decision on that event’s permit in the coming days.
The Legacy Partners race in Whitefish is scheduled on Oct. 5.