Whitefish Lake Institute Brief History

Addressing long-term aquatic resource protection takes time and patience. It also requires a baseline of scientific, cultural, and historical knowledge of an area; an understanding of its physical, biological, and chemical dynamics; and a program to monitor any changes over time. With these elements in place, adaptive management plans can be developed and actions implemented. Successful conservation efforts are therefore the product of significant dedication and oftentimes considerable funding. Since its 2005 inception, WLI has collaborated with numerous individuals, organizations, groups, and agencies to protect water quality in the Whitefish Lake Watershed. Here you will find some of the milestone events that have marked our progress and success.

  • The Whitefish Lake Institute (WLI) was founded by Mike Koopal on January 6th, 2005
  • WLI governance is established with a board of directors and two advisory committees
  • WLI receives 501(c) (3) designation from IRS
  • WLI begins the process of acquiring equipment to conduct research
  • WLI begins a study looking at the potential health effects of gasoline constituent loading to Whitefish Lake
  • Chris Ruffatto, Power and Energy Technology teacher at Whitefish High and program FREEFLOW director graciously volunteers to assist in data collection from 2005-2010


  • WLI finishes field component of study evaluating gasoline constituent loading to Whitefish Lake
  • WLI conducts a social survey at three grade levels in the Whitefish School District to determine recreational use levels on Whitefish Lake
  • WLI begins annual Pond Unit presentation to all Whitefish 2nd graders and annual fish dissection for all Whitefish 4th graders
  • WLI begins making presentations to middle school and high school classes. Through the years WLI presents to schools in Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Somers.  WLI also presents information to various civic groups, homeowners associations, and lake groups
  • WLI acquires key scientific equipment through a Supplemental Environmental Program Agreement between the City of Whitefish and Montana Department of Environmental Quality


  • WLI begins a long-term trend study of Whitefish Lake, documenting physical and chemical parameters at two sites on Whitefish Lake, five tributaries, and atmospheric deposition data
  • WLI completes report; Gasoline Constituent Loading and Motorized Watercraft Use Levels, Whitefish Lake, Montana, 2005-2006
  • Through a donation from Plum Creek (now Weyerhaeuser), WLI purchases and installs a weather station and bulk precipitation collector at the north end of Whitefish Lake
  • WLI contracted by Flathead County to provide technical assistance to the Bigfork Stormwater Project


  • The Whitefish City Council approves initial funding to provide mitigation at the City Beach Boat Ramp based on recommendations from the WLI report: Gasoline Constituent Loading and Motorized Watercraft Use Levels, Whitefish Lake, Montana, 2005-2006
  • WLI begins investigation to characterize the physical and chemical properties of Tally Lake
  • WLI adds the Whitefish River to its baseline monitoring program
  • Mike Koopal receives an Outstanding Individual Achievement Award for his Contribution to the Protection and Enhancement of Fisheries Resources in Montana by the Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society


  • WLI begins a summer internship program for college students majoring in the environmental sciences. Participants to date include: 2009 – Kristi Whisler (Northwestern University) and Mary Kohnstamm (St. Lawrence College); 2010 -Michael Harrison (Whitman College), 2011 – Leif Castren (Middlebury College), 2012 – Meagan Powell (Westminster College) and Carl Talsma (Cornell University), 2013 – Logan Seipel (University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point), 2014 – Dietrich Perchy (Montana State University), 2017- Barrett Gray (Princeton University), 2018- Zach Cook (Brown University), 2019- Graham Friedman (Harvard University).
  • WLI brings to attention of the Whitefish City Council the problem with petroleum based leaks from seeps along the Whitefish River
  • WLI becomes recognized by the Whitefish School District as an In-Service Provider for teachers
  • WLI partners with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to establish the Whitefish to Eureka Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program
  • WLI begins an investigation to characterize the physical and chemical properties of Swan Lake for the Swan Lakers and Kootenai Lodge Estates


  • WLI brings to attention of the Whitefish City Council continued petroleum based seepage along the shoreline of Mackinaw Bay (site of 1989 train derailment) and urges the US Environmental Protection Agency to take action on the issue
  • Mike Koopal from WLI and John Wachsmuth from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks co-coordinate the 2nd Edition of the Montana Lake Book
  • After two years of negotiations WLI acquires 28.82 acres of wetland habitat near the shores of Whitefish Lake through a private donation linked to an overall development package. WLI names the area the Averill’s Viking Creek Wetland Preserve to honor the donor famil
  • WLI begins the Whitefish Wine Auction, the organization’s major annual fundraiser (2010-2015)
  • Based on proceeds from the Whitefish Wine Auction, work commences on building a public interpretive trail in the Averill’s Viking Creek Wetland Preserve
  • WLI presented the inaugural Doris Schumm Community Spirit Award by the Whitefish Community Foundation


  • WLI hires Lori Curtis as Science and Education Director
  • WLI hires Josh Gubits (2011-2016) as Environmental Scientist and Coordinator of the Northwest Montana Lakes Network
  • WLI partners with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Flathead Basin Commission to develop the Northwest Montana Lakes Network which combined the WLI Whitefish to Eureka program and the FBC Volunteer Monitoring program
  • The Whitefish Wine Auction is labeled “Montana’s premier wine event” by distributors and patrons
  • Lori Curtis receives Outstanding Outdoor Writer Award by the Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society
  • WLI partners with the Education Travel Institute of America to offer Road Scholar programs bringing 700 educational travelers to Whitefish each year to learn more about the natural amenities of the bioregion (2011-2014)
  • WLI partners with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; City of Whitefish; and the Whitefish County Water District to create and install educational signs at City Beach


  • WLI completes the report; Investigation of Septic Leachate to the Shoreline Area of Whitefish Lake, Montana and presents study findings to the Whitefish City Council
  • Based on the results of the WLI septic leachate study, the Whitefish City Council adopted Resolution 12-15 establishing the ad hoc Whitefish Community Wastewater Committee. WLI is appointed to facilitate the committee
  • WLI completes first annual report for the Northwest Montana Lakes Network describing the current status of over 40 lakes in Northwest Montana
  • WLI completes the Bigfork Stormwater Project Pre-Project Implementation Water Quality Testing Technical Memo
  • WLI awarded a $25K capital grant by the Whitefish Community Foundation in honor of Mary Jane and Russ Street who left the Community Foundation an unrestricted gift of just over $1.1 million and to whom preservation of Whitefish Lake was very important
  • At WLI’s urging, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supervised the secondary clean-up of 450 cubic meters of lingering contaminated sediment along the shoreline of Mackinaw Bay from the 1989 train derailment


  • WLI hires Jen Croskrey as Finance and Administration Manager (2013-2015)
  • After years of fundraising and construction, WLI opened the Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail
  • WLI drafts the first Whitefish Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Management Plan that was adopted by the Whitefish City Council
  • As facilitated by WLI, the Whitefish Community Wastewater Committee submits a management plan to Whitefish City Council
  • WLI adds Beaver Creek to the baseline monitoring program
  • WLI completes a 400 point aquatic plant survey of the Whitefish Lake shoreline
  • The City of Whitefish selects an engineering firm to mitigate gasoline constituents at the City Beach boat ramp


  • Josh Gubits receives Conservationist of the Year Award by The Flathead Audubon for his work on the Northwest Montana Lakes Network
  • WLI produces first WLI Progress Report including a historical timeline since its inception
  • WLI completes the Bigfork Storm Water Project Final Report
  • WLI completes the Swan Lake Water Quality Investigation Final Report
  • WLI adds Cow Creek, Haskill Creek, and Walker Creek to the baseline monitoring program
  • WLI collected data to support the City of Whitefish Nutrient Reduction Plan
  • WLI moves to a new location: 550 East 1st Street #103 in downtown Whitefish
  • WLI presented the inaugural Russ and Mary Jane Street Community Service Award by the Whitefish Community Foundation


  • WLI celebrates its 10-year anniversary!
  • WLI completes the Whitefish Area Water Resources Report: A Status of the Whitefish Lake Watershed and Surrounding Area, a comprehensive report for the public and resource managers
  • WLI completes the 5th year of coordinating and administrating the Northwest Montana Lakes Network
  • As the project facilitator, WLI successfully developed partners and received planning grants to complete a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) for the Lion Mountain Neighborhood, and the City of Whitefish adopted a resolution to approve the Whitefish Community Wastewater Committee Management Plan
  • WLI prepares a memo with summary statistics analyzing 58 years of Whitefish Lake elevation data
  • Connie Chung highlights the Whitefish Wine Auction as Master of Ceremonies
  • Jen Croskrey steps down as Finance and Administration Manager to help manage her husband’s business and to spend more time with family
  • WLI successfully participates in the Whitefish Community Foundation’s first Great Fish Challenge


  • Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks announces that zebra mussels were found in Montana. WLI leads the local effort to prevent their spread to Whitefish Lake and participates in regional and statewide efforts
  • Josh Gubits transitions to contract status, establishing his own business, AquaTerra Solutions, and continues to coordinate the NMLN and AIS tasks for WLI
  • WLI begins membership appreciation program
  • Mike Koopal and Lori Curtis present papers at the North American Lake Management Society International Symposium in Banff, Canada
  • WLI successfully developed partners and received planning grants to complete a second PER for the East Lakeshore neighborhood
  • WLI ramps up biological monitoring on Whitefish Lake by conducting macroinvertebrate, periphyton, and mysis shrimp studies, thanks to grants from the Cadeau Foundation and Whitefish Community Foundation
  • WLI makes infrastructure improvements to the Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail via a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Recreational Trails Program grant
  • WLI participates in the Rangewide Bull Trout eDNA project by collecting samples on local streams


  • WLI develops and implements a comprehensive Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program “Our Lake Our Future” in partnership with the City of Whitefish and Montana State Parks to include two watercraft inspection stations and a preventative hot water flush / decontamination station for high-risk watercraft. Other program components include exit seals and on-line certification for specific user groups
  • WLI receives a major grant from the Whitefish Community Foundation to purchase a watercraft decontamination unit.
  • WLI continues efforts on the septic leachate issue by working directly with the Lion Mountain neighborhood group on educational materials and by participating in a community forum at city hall
  • Lori Curtis transitions from associate to full supervisor on the Flathead Conservation District board of supervisors
  • Mike Koopal and Lori Curtis appointed by Governor Bullock to the Upper Columbia Conservation Commission (UC3). Lori becomes chair of the commission and Mike becomes chair of the AIS Early Detection & Monitoring Committee
  • Mike Koopal and Lori Curtis co-coordinate the third edition of the Montana Lake Book
  • WLI implements the Ripple Effect Scholarship Program for high school students entering college and majoring in natural resource management. Award recipient to date include: 2017- Rose Madison (Hampshire College), 2018- Pixie Moore (University of Hawaii at Manoa)
  • WLI again awarded the Russ and Mary Jane Street Community Service Award by the Whitefish Community Foundation


  • WLI hired Cynthia Ingelfinger as Science & Education Coordinator and as coordinator of the Northwest Montana Lakes Network
  • WLI hired Shawn Devlin, Ph.D. as Aquatic Ecologist on a limited part-time basis
  • WLI produces Voices of Our Lake, a full color publication filled with vignettes from respected community members describing their histories with and personal connection to Whitefish Lake and the surrounding area
  • As part of the Whitefish Aquatic Invasive Species Program, no Eurasian Watermilfoil is documented during diver surveys on Beaver Lake
  • WLI begins working on the septic leachate issue on a statewide basis by elevating the discussion to state officials and contributing to a draft study bill
  • Mike Koopal appointed by Governor Bullock to the Flathead Basin Commission. Mike becomes member of the Executive Committee
  • Mike Koopal joins the Montana Watershed Coordination Council (MWCC) board of directors
  • WLI organizes inaugural Montana Lakes Conference to be held in spring of 2019


  • WLI hosts successful inaugural Montana Lakes Conference attended by 175 scientists, natural resource managers and community members
  • WLI develops and hosts inaugural Science Quencher – an event to engage community members with local scientists, educators and authors
  • WLI transfers responsibility for Eurasian Watermilfoil management at Beaver Lake to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and continues to partner with the state to address the issue
  • As part of WLI’s participation in UC3, WLI hosts a Big Sky Watershed Corp Member
  • WLI contracted by UC3 to develop the Upper Columbia Lakes Network to facilitate and engage new volunteer groups to monitor their local waters for AIS
  • WLI contract by Montana DEQ to port select WLI data to the state’s database
  • WLI participates in a Cow Creek restoration partnership with Flathead Conservation District, MT FWP, River Design Group, Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana, and the City of Whitefish to implement riparian restoration plantings, hardened crossings and weed control measures on two properties along Cow Creek in Whitefish


  • WLI and project partners complete riparian restoration on two stream reaches of Cow Creek
  • WLI and project partners complete the build-out of the preventative decontamination station at the City Beach Overflow Parking Lot
  • As a member of the Flathead Basin Commission, Mike Koopal promotes septic leachate as a significant non-point source issue. Mike then vice chairs the formation of an On-site Wastewater Treatment Committee and agrees to chair FBC’s technical committee
  • UCLN program trains and equips twelve new volunteers from eight partner groups and from July through September 2020, sixteen samples were collected from ten lakes. All samples were sent to FWP’s lab in Helena and all sampling data was uploaded into FWP’s AIS Survey 123 database
  • A new UCLN website provides volunteers and partners with AIS monitoring protocols, background information and resources
  • The Northwest Montana Lakes Volunteer Monitoring Network name is changed to Northwest Montana Lakes Network (NMLN). A new logo is created and website updated
  • A Flathead National Forest RAC grant allows WLI to collect eDNA samples at Tally Lake, Hungry Horse, Ashley Lake, Upper Stillwater Lake
  • WLI hosts two Science Quenchers – one in person pre-Covid-19 and one via Zoom – each featuring four speakers on a variety of science topics
  • A Cadeau Foundation grant enables Lori Curtis of WLI and Nanette Nelson of the Flathead Lake Biological Station to conduct an economic impact study of Whitefish and Flathead Lakes


  • Carol Treadwell joins WLI as the Finance and Grants Manager
  • Lori Curtis retires from her position as WLI’s Science and Education Director after twelve years
  • Cynthia Ingelfinger takes over as Science and Education Director and is appointed to The Flathead Basin Commission’s Education and Outreach Committee
  • Citing a 2019 Whitefish Lake Institute whitepaper, the Whitefish City Council passes a fireworks ordinance that phases in non-perchlorate fireworks for public displays
  • Mike Koopal and University of Montana researchers are awarded a National Science Foundation Smart and Connected Communities grant to investigate the septic leachate issue
  • Mike Koopal is appointed to the state’s Water Pollution Control Advisory Council (WPCAC), which reviews state water quality standards
  • The Upper Columbia Lakes Network trains and equips with monitoring kits 7 new volunteers from three partner groups. From July through September 2021, twelve volunteers collect 27 samples from 14 lakes. All samples have been found to have no invasive mussel veligers present