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In response to development, family plants a forest

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | April 28, 2021 6:05 AM

On the hillside above the Rogers ranch in rural Columbia Falls, a developer was busy sawing down trees and hauling out timber for a new subdivision.

In a pasture below, a family and friends were planting a new forest.

“For every tree you’re taking out of there, we’re planting another one,” Shirley Folkwein recently told the developer of the Benches, which is just off Rogers Road.

Folkwein and her sisters, Luci Yeats and Ruth Clawson grew up on the Rogers farm east of the Flathead River. They remember their Dad, Ted Rogers, clear cutting this 5 acre field to make way for a pasture in the 1950s.

They helped him pile up the tops from the trees. Today, some of the stumps still lie in the low spots where it was too wet to farm.

On Friday last week in a nod to Earth Day, they reversed course of the land. The sisters, their extended family, and several friends came out to plant more than 400 saplings — larch, spruce and ponderosa pine. In the coming decades, it will revert back to forest — Luke’s Forest to be exact.

Luke is their grandson, not quite 4 years old. He helped plant trees, too. Collectively the family owns about 60 acres of farmland along Rogers Road and U.S. Highway 2.

They recently formed the Upper Flathead Neighborhood Association.

The association covers a swath of ground from just south of the proposed Bad Rock Wildlife Management Area south to the Bonneville Power Administration lines, west to the Flathead River and east to Highway 206.

Currently it has about 20 members.

“Our mission is to promote protection of wildlife, birds, water quality and have a voice of sensible development,” Shirley Folkwein said.

The concern is with the rapid expansion of development in the north end of the valley, the rural way of life will be lost.

Citing data from the Flathead Land Trust, the association notes that from 1990 to 2016, the Flathead Valley lost 71,200 acres of farmland and open space to housing developments, and more development is coming.

Just recently Folkwein raised concerns about a request to subdivide a field just north of U.S. Highway 2 from 10 acres to five acres. With years of experience farming the area, she told city council that the water table was just under the surface.

The prospective owner pulled the application, city leaders noted, though the expectation is the landowners will resubmit the claim.

Above the Rogers spread, a developer is putting in a subdivision called the Benches. It will include about 48 homes, all served by wells and septic systems.

The Rogers family has previously raised concerns about the impacts to their wells, once the homes are built. The subdivision originally included 30 rental cabins, but the Columbia Falls city council did not approve a planned unit development for them.

However, zoning allowed for the homes to be built, and the development is underway.

Folks interested in learning more about the neighborhood association can contact Folkwein at upperflatheadna@ gmail.com or on Facebook at: https:// www.facebook.com/