Community Stewardship

Programs Overview  Scientific Research Education and Outreach

WLI engages a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) which enables diverse community involvement and participation in support of the science and education goals of the Whitefish Lake Institute. The CAC provides a forum for the exchange of information between citizens and WLI, conducts community outreach, and provides opportunities for learning about—and engaging in—Whitefish Lake Watershed issues. Committee members also come together each year to make recommendations for the annual Stewardship Award(s) and the Chris Rufatto Excellence in Education Award. See who is on the Citizens Advisory Committee.


Read about the history, the present day and the future of Whitefish Lake.

Also check out the signs posted at City beach which we developed in partnership with the City of Whitefish, Whitefish County Water District, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

WLI owns and manages 28.82 acres of important water-cleansing wetlands and wildlife habitat, protecting it from development and enhancing Whitefish's outdoor amenities. It includes 14.7 acres of wetlands and an approximately 9 acre upland area located in the north central corner of the property. The primary function of this wetland is water quality buffering and wildlife habitat. Since Viking Creek—one of Whitefish Lake's six tributaries—and the groundwater of the area drain directly into the lake, water quality buffering is vitally important. The property is bordered on the north and east by the 215-acre Battin Nature Conservancy Easement, affording a large contiguous habitat for wildlife in the urban/wildland interface. 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. Find out more about the development of the Preserve by clicking on Brokering a Solution below.

Brokering a Solution
Brokering a Solution Wetland Preserve Wildlife Photos

History & Restoration of the Wetland

Importance of Wetlands

WLI opened the Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail in the Averill's Viking Creek Wetland Preserve in 2013. The 28.82 acre Preserve was gifted to WLI by the Dan Averill family in 2009 as part of the Viking Creek Development proposal. Our goal in developing this trail and making it 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. The trail offers the closest outdoor natural experience for Whitefish citizens and visitors, extends natural resource education offerings, and enables connectivity to the City of Whitefish bike and pedestrian Path, Crestwood Park, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, and the Viking Creek subdivision.


The main trailhead is located on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue, just south of The Lodge at Whitefish Lake. Satellite trailheads are located at Crestwood Park and behind the Viking Lodge. This wheelchair and stroller friendly trail crosses Viking Creek over three bridges and rises above wetter areas over four wooden boardwalks. There are 14 interpretive stations pointing out natural features of the wetland, and a companion Trail Guide with map that further expands on the interpretation. Six beautifully handcrafted benches are strategically placed along the trail. Each bench was purchased by a community member who dedicated their bench in honor of, or in memory of someone special.



click to enlarge TRAIL MAP
A series of artistic and informative trail signs were designed to highlight interesting natural features along the trail and increase visitors' knowledge of wetland ecology. The interpretive signs and companion Trail Guide create and encourage sustainable visitor interaction while educating visitors about the specific functions of this wetland in the Whitefish Lake Watershed.
In addition to hosting daily visitors, WLI also conducts research in the wetland through a partnership with the Whitefish High School Project FREEFLOW, hosts pre-K through 12 classroom visits, and provides senior learning programs at the trail. If you have a group of 10 or more and would like an interpretive tour led by WLI staff, please submit your request to info@whitefishlake.org.
  See pp. 36-37 of "A Teacher's Guide to
Outdoor Education Sites and Programs
in the Flathead Region" for educational

Click on one of these links for more information

•   Interpretive Native Plant Garden

•   Trail Usage & Closures

•   Community Sponsors

We are very excited to offer teachers and parents the Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail "Discovery Guide". The Guide includes 16 activities for kids to do while visiting the wetland with their teachers or parents. Developed to meet Montana's fifth grade science curriculum standards, the activities promote individual learning and discovery in the outdoors through fun and engaging projects. Kids have opportunities to participate in scientific discovery and learn how organisms are interrelated in the wetland environment. There are lessons in species identification, opportunities to describe the functions of natural systems, and activities to define a wetland food web. The guide also provides an introduction to field journaling, guiding kids on a journey of viewing the world as young naturalists. There are activities that require writing, drawing, and quiet observing. The guide also pairs with the 14 interpretive signs and six benches that are placed along the trail, leading young citizens on their own adventure to enjoy and discover the wetland. Discovery Guides are provided to Whitefish fifth grade science teachers; they can be downloaded from the WLI website; or they are available from WLI by calling 406.862.4327.


We are pleased to offer our wetland visitors a guide to the bird species that have been identified by sight, song, or sound in the Averill's Viking Creek Wetland Preserve. In addition to birds you may see in the wetland, the Bird Guide lets visitors know what to expect seasonally around the Flathead Lake Watershed. There are full color photos of identified species and a checklist to help you and WLI keep track of sightings. Bird Guides are available at our trailheads; they can be downloaded from the WLI website; or they are available from WLI by calling 406.862.4327.



WLI is pleased to sponsor the Whitefish Lake Institute Stewardship Awards. Each year, the award recognizes individuals or groups that took extraordinary measures to protect water quality in the Whitefish area. Nominations for individuals and groups are accepted annually.

Nomination Form Past Winners


The Whitefish Lake Institute participates in numerous committees including; Flathead Basin Commission (pending), Flathead Conservation District, Flathead CORE, Flathead Roundtable, Haskill Basin Watershed Group, Upper Columbia Conservation Commission, and the Whitefish Climate Action Plan Commission

WLI is a member of the American Fisheries Society, the American Water Resources Association, the North American Lake Management Society, and the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce.