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The Whitefish Lake Institute built an Interpretive Nature Trail with Recreational Trails Program funds to teach students and visitors of all ages about Montana's natural history.

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Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail provides educational opportunities

photo of timber signs

Main Trailhead Kiosk with environmental education messages


The goal in making this trail available to the public is to share the history, science, and beauty of the wetlands, and to provide a glimpse into the lives of the wildlife with which we share this habitat.


Project Description & Leveraging of Funds

This three-phased project funded through the Recreational Trails Program by Montana's State trails program enabled the design and installation of an interpretive nature trail in a 28.8 acre wetland now protected in perpetuity by the Whitefish Lake Institute (WLI). It included building the trail, interpretive trail signs, a main trailhead kiosk and two satellite kiosks, a retaining wall, snow guard rail, directional posts, three bridges, six benches, and weed management work.

In addition to RTP funds, the project united the funds and support of 18 community organization partners. The Preserve— opened to the public on July 13th, 2013— offers an interpretive nature trail and a comfortable respite for citizens and visitors, as well as numerous outdoor educational opportunities.

photo of children on trail with notebooks




Bordered to the north and east by the 215-acre Murdock Nature Conservancy Easement, the Preserve makes available a large contiguous area that protects water quality and provides habitat for aquatic, terrestrial, and avian wildlife.

 In addition to protecting the wetlands from development, the project includes wetland restoration to re-create diverse habitat for wetland species. Two branches of Viking Creek join in the Preserve to form the main channel of the creek— one of six perennial tributaries to Whitefish Lake— which then flows beneath Wisconsin Avenue through a culvert to its outfall into the lake.

This wetland improves water quality before it enters the lake and offers safe breeding and calving areas for elk and deer, nesting sites for avian species, habitat for fish, beavers, and aquatic insects, and room to roam for bears, mountain lions, and foxes.

All wood structures (bridges, swale bridges, directional sign posts, sign kiosk structures, benches, guard rails, and retaining wall) were created by a local craftsman using local hand-milled timbers and custom joinery.

photo of wood boadwalk through forest

Boardwalk on the Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail


Economic Benefits

Wetlands form an important link and transition zone between our land and water and perform several functions vital to our environment and economy which depend on clean water. Our goal in making this trail available to the public is to share the history, science, and beauty of the wetland, and to provide a glimpse into the lives of the wildlife with which we share this habitat. This publicly accessible Preserve is an excellent example of how citizens and developers can work together to protect the health of the watershed, to provide open space in the wildland/urban interface, and to allow for economic growth in the community.
Climate Change

With their characteristic hydric soil, shallow water table, and unique plant life, wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. Wetlands provide water purification, flood protection, groundwater recharge, and essential habitat for wildlife. Globally wetland soils store twice the amount of carbon as all the world’s forests yet about 60,000 acres in the US are lost to development each year. Every protected wetland is important to diminishing the effects of climate change.

photo of teenagers with test equipment



Education: An Outdoor Classroom

WLI hosts all ages of traditional and non-traditional learners from preschool through high school, college, and seniors with the Road Scholar program. Students and their teachers enjoy planned tours and events or use the Trail Guide for a self-guided tour. WLI also developed the “Discovery Guide” a workbook of fun activities for youth.
Health Benefits

The trail is a unique respite in the midst of town—a place for healthy reflection and a connection with nature, and an excellent recreational option for wheelchair or walking device-assisted visitors.


For more information:

Lori S. Curtis, Science & Education Director, Whitefish Lake Institute -

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