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Whitefish Lake: A Resource for All

photo courtesy of Stumptown Historical Society

History
From the first Native American cultures who found sustenance in the Whitefish Lake Watershed and throughout history, Whitefish Lake has been an important community resource. At one time, logs were rafted across the lake to supply a saw mill on the Whitefish River. When the Great Northern Railway came through in the mid 1880s, ice from the lake was used to refrigerate produce shipped from California. The ice was cut from the lake and stored in sawdust over the summer. The City of Whitefish initially had two drinking water supply lines originating at the lake, and the railroad had a water line from the lake to supply the train yard. Those three pipelines, although long since abandoned, remain visible today just off the dock at City Beach. The town grew and people built homes around the lake where they sourced their water. Eventually the city began taking water for its citizens from Haskill Creek. But, as Whitefish continued to grow, the 100 year old gravity controlled water supply from Haskill Creek could not keep up with demand. So, the city returned to the lake to augment its water supply, a practice which continues today.
See the Whitefish Water Resources Report: A Status of the Whitefish Lake Watershed & Surrounding Area for in depth cultural and histrical information.

Today
Unlike most Rocky Mountain communities that depend on deep wells, Whitefish is one of the few communities in the region that depends entirely on surface water for its domestic water supply. Many residents not on City water pull their drinking water directly from the lake. These are some of the primary reasons to protect the quality of Whitefish Lake and its tributaries. Whitefish Lake water is also used by Iron Horse to irrigate its 18 hole golf course fairways, greens, and landscaping. The lake is used increasingly for recreation by swimmers, anglers, and boaters, so much so that public sites such as City Beach, State Park, and Les Mason often become very crowded during the peak of summer.

The Future
Our everyday activities impact the health of the lake and its tributaries. We unintentionally contribute sewage, gasoline, oil, sediment, runoff from impermeable surfaces (roofs, driveways, sideways), landscaping chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and railroad debris into our waterways. We all share in the responsibility of finding ways to live, recreate, and grow our community responsibly and sustainably. The health of Whitefish Lake and our other public resource assets are inextricably linked to the economic health of our community. Collaboration amongst citizens, community leaders, and resource managers is fundamental to maintaining those assets and the quality of life and economic vitality we enjoy. It is important that we make decisions today that consider long-term consequences, not just short-term gain, so that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy a healthy interface with local lake resources.

 

City Beach Signs

WLI coordinated a partnership with the City of Whitefish, Whitefish County Water District, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to create and install two large kiosk signs at City Beach. Included on the signs are a geologic history and facts about the lake, Whitefish Lake ecology, game fish species of the lake, and important information about Aquatic Invasive Species and how to prevent their spread. The signs were produced by The Engraver and the kiosks were built by Balancing Axe.