New parking regulations in effect for Clark Fork River recreationists

Milltown parking and river access map
Map showing where parking is permitted to access the Clark Fork River near Bonner. 

If you’re planning to float or otherwise recreate on the Clark Fork River near Bonner this summer, county and state officials ask that you follow new parking and river access guidelines aimed at promoting safety and consistency and providing a better user experience.

Missoula County commissioners adopted a resolution in March prohibiting parking along parts of Juniper Drive and Tamarack Road in Bonner (see above map). Located near popular but undesignated, informal river access points, the two roadways had grown increasingly congested in recent years, posing safety and nuisance concerns for nearby residents, emergency vehicles and the public.

Instead, the county is working with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to encourage recreationists to park and access the river at the Confluence Area of Milltown State Park. Once you enter the parking lot, signage will direct you toward river access and other amenities. Park admission and parking is free for vehicles registered in Montana and $8 for out-of-state vehicles.

“There have long been safety concerns surrounding river access and parking congestion along Tamarack Road during the busier times of the floating season,” said Chet Crowser, director of Missoula County Community and Planning Services. “The commissioners’ resolution and efforts to redirect river access and parking to Milltown State Park is another great example of collaboration between Missoula County and Fish, Wildlife and Parks to address safety concerns and provide a better recreational experience for the public.”

Missoula County Public Works has installed “no parking” signs along Tamarack Road and Juniper Drive from the junction of Highway 200 to the entrance of the Confluence Area. The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the ordinance, which may include towing vehicles in violation. FWP will also post “no parking” signs along the entrance into the Confluence Area, as well as directional signage to help park and river users find the appropriate parking and access points.

Milltown State Park has 80 parking spaces, and a nearby stretch of road at the end of Juniper Drive not affected by the resolution can accommodate overflow and evening parking. There is no parking along interior park roads. While the park is open for day use from sunrise to sunset, the entrance gate is tentatively set to close at 7 p.m. due to COVID-19 concerns. This could change later in the season.

“Providing public access to the restored confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers is one of the founding tenets of Milltown State Park,” said Michael Kustudia, Milltown State Park manager.  “This strategy provides easier and safer access to the public, protects river resources, and addresses traffic and safety concerns of the community. We know this first year will be a learning experience for both our staff and the public, but the end result is a better river experience for everyone.”

In addition to this collaboration, Missoula County and FWP also worked with Three Rivers Collaborative, Downtown Missoula Partnership and Destination Missoula to publish a new map and guide to recreating on the Clark Fork. It’s available online at https://destinationmissoula.org/downtown-river-map.

Missoula health officer updates order to allow more businesses to open

Health Department

Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy today issued an update to her April 24 order as part of the gradual reopening plan for Missoula County. The main updates to the order include:

  • Businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage, spa and similar services to open Monday, May 11. These entities can open as long as they create a service plan that supports employee health screening,
    social distancing, face-covering use, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.
  • The limit on events and gatherings such as fairs, concerts, races and sporting events, and private parties outside the home was raised to 50 people. Events with 50 or fewer must maintain six-foot social distancing. This does not replace the governor’s requirement to limit groups to 10 people when distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Farmers markets may open for the sale of unprocessed agricultural products starting Saturday, May 23. The market must have a plan to support social distancing, including the flow of customers and limiting the number of people in the market at one time. Vendors must space tables six feet apart. Vendors, employees, and volunteers are required to screen for symptoms and have provisions for personal hygiene and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Schools may hold graduation, providing that they have a plan to keep families separated by six feet and can limit the total number of people to 250 based on guidance for large gatherings. The schools must provide a plan to support social distancing, personal hygiene and sanitation.

The local orders will remain in place until the governor moves to Phase Two, or the health officer rescinds or modifies them.

Gov. Bullock’s announcement on May 7 regarding the opening of gyms, fitness studios, some pools, movie theaters, and non-tactile museums are not affected by the local order.

These facilities may open Friday, May 15, providing they can follow the requirements outlined by the governor.

“We are at a different place than we were on April 24 when the original orders were issued,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 response. “We had nine active cases. We were still getting new cases of COVID, and we were following two dozen close contacts. We are now at zero active cases and haven’t had a new case in over two weeks.”

Farr adds that while the outbreak appears to be winding down that COVID-19 is still a risk. The health department encourages community members to practice personal and community protective measures. Monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, washing hands, social distancing, and staying home as much as possible are still prevention measures that matter.

Additionally, the Health Board’s recommendation for wearing cloth face coverings in public spaces can decrease community spread.

“Keeping cases down at this point comes down to behavior and contact tracing. We can do the contact tracing and provide guidance to our community, but we still need the community’s help,” said Farr.

“Behavior matters. Social distancing and helping businesses and organizations follow the provisions is not only helpful for them but helpful for the community.”

For detailed descriptions of what these businesses will need to do to safely reopen, check out the health department’s guide online at missoula.co/reopeningmissoulacounty. If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, please call 406-258-4755.

Health officer issues order for more gradual reopening in Missoula County

Health Department

Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy issued an order Friday providing additional guidance and restrictions to accompany the statewide Reopening the Big Sky plan Gov. Steve Bullock outlined earlier this week.

The order enhances sections of the governor’s plan and provides for a more gradual reopening process. It intends to protect public health and Missoula’s healthcare hub, our communities, and our essential businesses, services and workers. It will also allow local public health to develop guidance for businesses during this transition.

The key components of the order include:

  • Events are limited to 25 people. During Phase One, which begins Monday, April 27, events and gatherings such as, but not limited to, fairs, festivals, markets (including farmers’ markets), concerts, sporting events, races and private parties outside the home must be limited to 25 people during Phase One. A 6-foot physical distance between participants must be maintained. If this distancing cannot be maintained, then these gathers are limited to 10 people, per the governor’s directive.
  • Salons, spas, body art, grooming and similar services must remain closed. Hair and nail salons, barbershops, spas, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and other businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage and similar services will remain closed until Phase Two. Massage therapy affiliated with licensed physical therapy and chiropractor services is exempt from this requirement.
  • Retail businesses must take additional measures to reopen. Retail business, formerly deemed “non-essential” and required to be closed during the stay-at-home directive, may reopen to only curbside pick-up and delivery on Monday, April 27. These businesses may resume in-store services on Friday, May 1, if all the requirements below are met. The following requirements also apply to essential retail businesses that continued operations under the statewide stay-at-home directive:
    • At any given time, the maximum number of customers must be 50% of usual business capacity
    • Measures to protect customers and staff waiting in line at checkout counters, such as visible markers or signs denoting six-foot separation or temporary barriers, are in place
    • Staff have received training on practicing good hygiene, maintaining physical distancing, recognizing symptoms of COVID-19, and not reporting to work or remaining at work if experiencing symptoms;
    • Businesses must develop and implement an individualized plan addressing the requirements in the governor’s re-opening directive and this order. Businesses must keep the completed plan on-site and make it available to the Missoula City-County Health Department upon request.
  • Eating and drinking establishments must adhere to requirements to reopen. Restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos may reopen on Monday, May 4, as long as all the guidelines outlined in the governor’s directive can be met. The main difference here between the state plan and the Missoula County approach is that the guidelines outlined in the governor’s plan will be requirements in Missoula County. If establishments cannot meet these requirements, they must remain closed during Phase One. In addition, these establishments also must provide for at least 6 feet of separation between diners and groups of diners, including those sitting in booths.

These measures will remain in effect until the governor moves the state to Phase Two re-opening (the date for which has not been determined) or until this order is revoked or revised based on review of epidemiological data, testing availability and public health and medical capacity to control the spread of the virus and treat COVID-19.

To read the full order and access additional guidance, head to missoula.co/cvirus. If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, you can call 406-258-4755.

“We know that there are cases in our county that have not been identified and are concerned that we could see a spike in cases if we loosen restrictions too quickly and without a plan,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 response. “We need to take a measured approach to reopening in Missoula for the sake of the public’s health.”

Farr also added that the measures, while delaying some openings, will help minimize the chances of future closures or workforce impacts if cases increase.

“What we don’t want is for businesses to invest in getting back on track, only to be affected again,” Farr said. “Taking the time, providing guidance and moving methodically is important.”

The health department recognizes that loosening any restriction is likely to contribute to case numbers but knows restrictions long-term are not practical. Working with businesses and the community to create a “new normal” in the era of the pandemic is essential.

Since Wednesday, the health department received more than 200 comments from community members, business owners and essential workers. About 90% of the comments asked for additional local measures, particularly to slow the reopening of the businesses that are covered in the order.

Under the governor’s directive, public schools in Montana will have the option to reopen starting Thursday, May 7. The decision to reopen will be up to individual school districts, including Missoula County Public Schools and other districts in the county. The Board of Trustees for MCPS, the largest district in the county, plans to make that decision on Friday, May 1.

Along with these measures, the department encourages community members to practice personal and community protective measures. Monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, washing hands, social distancing, and staying home as much as possible are still prevention measures that matter. Additionally, the Health Board’s recommendation for wearing cloth face coverings in public spaces where social distancing is hard may decrease community spread.

“Keeping cases down at this point comes down to behavior and contact tracing,” Farr said. “We can do the contact tracing and provide guidance to our community, but we still need the community’s help. It is going to take all of us supporting each other to keep COVID-19 down. We’ve weathered this storm as well as we have because of community thinking, and that’s what’s going to continue to matter.”

COVID-19 and mental health: Missoula County resources

Mental health

These are difficult times, and it is natural and normal to be experiencing strong feelings. There are a lot of changes and directives coming at us right now, but one thing we want to make sure you do is be gentle with yourself and take some time for your mental health.

The Missoula City-County Health Department has compiled the following resources for anyone experiencing changes in their mental health. There are a lot of great online resources available as well as crisis and warm lines ready for your call. Please also take advantage of telehealth options with your therapists and counselors.

▪National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

▪Crisis Text Line: Text “MT” to 741-741
▪Missoula City-County Health Suicide Prevention office: 406-258-3881
▪Western Montana Mental Health Center: 406-532-8949
▪Montana Warmline (877-688-3377) is available 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. for people with a mental illness who want to talk to a peer who is in recovery for their own mental illness: http://montanawarmline.org
▪Shatter Proof has resources to help those dealing with substance abuse disorder during this time of COVID: https://www.shatterproof.org
▪Online meditation and calming apps such https://insighttimer.com/ and https://www.calm.com/ can be helpful.
▪Partners in Health has advice for maintaining mental health while social distancing: https://www.pih.org/article/10-mental-health-tips-coronavirus-social-distancing

Take care of yourself, and take care of each other. We’ll get through this!

Missoula health officials close bars, limit food service to prevent COVID-19 spread

social distancing

The Missoula City-County health officer issued an order closing bars and limiting restaurant service starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, March 17, through 8 a.m. Tuesday, March 24.

The order comes on the heels of CDC guidance to restrict events to fewer than 50 people, and the growing evidence supporting social distancing, or the avoidance of large groups of people and close contact. Other jurisdictions in Montana are doing the same, including Butte, as well as elected officials across the country.

“I know that this is a big ask with Saint Patty’s day tomorrow, but this is not a typical time,” said Health Officer Ellen Leahy. “This is a global pandemic of a new virus that spreads easily from person-to-person, and we need everyone’s help in curbing it.”

While the order prohibits the operation of bars and dine-in food service, the order does allow for limited operation via drive-thru, take out and delivery service. It also doesn’t include food services that are a sole source of food for a population such as nursing homes, UM dining or hospitals. Food services that operate in a limited capacity need to follow the food service regulations and additional guidance from the health department.

With two presumptive positive COVID-19 tests in Missoula County over the weekend and other cases across the state, the order is timely, especially in light of Gov. Steve Bullock ordering K-12 schools to close statewide.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the businesses affected,” Leahy said. “One of the great things about Missoula is the community-minded approach of the business community. Working together, we can minimize the impact on Missoula’s health and the economy.”

For the latest updates on COVID-19 in Missoula County, visit missoula.co/cvirus or call 406-258-INFO from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.