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Small Montana town carves out prosperity plan amid public lands

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Mark Moran

(Big Sky Connection) Residents of the Montana town of Lincoln are working to create a new economic development plan adding recreational opportunities and wilderness, while also preventing wildfires. It has been a long and delicate balancing act but people involved in the issue said they have come up with a successful proposal.

Lincoln is a sliver of privately owned property nestled between huge swaths of public lands along the Continental Divide. It came of age during the 1800s gold-mining era. When the gold panned out, Lincoln shifted to logging. Now, with the practice limited, the town has developed a new plan for its viability.

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Bill Cyr has lived in Lincoln for most of his life and said the Lincoln Prosperity Proposal is the next step toward economic success while also creating a new wilderness area and preventing catastrophic wildfires. It also allows some logging and added trails for motorized vehicles, mountain bikers and hikers, all of which appeal to recreation enthusiasts who come from Great Falls, Helena and Missoula.

"A lot of those people living in those larger communities commute to Lincoln on the weekends," Cyr explained. "To hunt, to fish, to camp, to go hiking, to go motorbiking or four-wheeling or whatever their form of recreation is."

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Cyr contended the proposal will keep visitors coming to Lincoln and serve as an economic development tool. But it will take an act of Congress to make it a reality. Cyr said the group is asking Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to introduce the Lincoln Prosperity Proposal in Washington next year.

Russ Ehnes, president of the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, is pleased with how much recreation area is added, especially in light of Montana's shifting economic landscape.

"Snowmobiling, ATVing, side-by-side riding are becoming much more important to the economy of Lincoln," Ehnes asserted. "And also for the quality of life for the local people who ride there."

Ehnes added even though the plan calls for adding wilderness area, it does not close any trails and in fact makes more of them available for motorized vehicle riders.