The Sprunger-Whitney Nature Trail is an interpretive, non-motorized hiking trail built by Friends of the Wild Swan on leased Montana state school trust lands. The loop trail is approximately 2.1 miles and provides nature walks that identify plants, birds and other wildlife as well as the special features of the old-growth, riparian forest.
The trail is named after Elmer Sprunger and Jack Whitney, two long-time residents and conservationists in the Swan Valley.
Old-Growth Forest Habitat and Biological Diversity
The Sprunger-Whitney Nature Trail area is a low-elevation old-growth forest. Although it has been fragmented by man-caused activities such as logging and roads, it still provides important habitat for many species of birds and other wildlife. There are a variety of tree species and ages, from large old trees to very young trees. Snags are abundant as are fallen, decaying trees and trees with broken tops. The fallen trees are essential habitat for small mammals because they intercept the snow providing passage-ways in the winter. Fungi, mosses and lichens along with microbes aid in the decomposition of logs; recycling the nutrients in the tree and adding structure to the soil. Snags provide habitat and food for woodpeckers as well as other birds and mammals. Many species of animals, birds, plants and lichens occur only in old-growth forests. They need the forest canopy, large trees, snags and down wood for food, cover and places to nest and den.
Woodpecker holes in trees are used by other birds for nesting. Black bears den in hollow tree cavities. The upland areas of the trail are different ecologically from the riparian areas, providing a diversity of habitats. This area is winter range for big game such as elk and deer because the tree canopy regulates temperatures and intercepts snow.
Over 55 bird species and 68 native plants and trees are found in the nature trail area.
The trail starts out on the roadbed of the old Swan highway which historical accounts suggest was part of a Native American trail through the Swan Valley. The Pend d’Oreille and Bitterroot Salish peoples used this area for thousands of years before Lewis and Clark came here.
The native peoples’ style of life followed the seasons and the layout of their territory. Their land base covered all of northwestern Montana out onto the plains of eastern Montana which they covered on a yearly cycle. They had permanent campsites that they returned to year after year and also permanent sites along rivers, streams, lakes and valleys that were used year round.
The Swan Valley was used by the Pend d’Oreille and Bitterroot Salish peoples as a favorite place to gather berries, hunt and fish. Today the Salish Tribes do not use the Swan Valley as extensively as their ancestors did. They still go to the Swan to pick huckleberries, gather tree moss and hunt but this is mostly done on an individual basis not like the elders and those before them when whole families would move to the Swan to camp and hunt for an extended period of time.
The Sprunger-Whitney Nature Trail was built on land that Friends of the Wild Swan leases from the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation. The lease is paid and the trail is maintained with grants and individual contributions. Through the trail we are demonstrating that school trust lands can provide direct educational benefits to school students and the public.
If you would like to help support this trail please send your tax-deductible contribution to:
Friends of the Wild Swan, P.O. Box 103, Bigfork, MT 59911
Directions: Take Hwy. 83 approximately 7.1 miles south of the Swan Lake Trading Post in Swan Lake. Turn right at the Point Pleasant Campground (1/2 mile south of milemarker 64). Follow sign to the trail.