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. (Montanans already pay for state park access when they register their vehicles in the state.)

“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.

New Seeley ice rink, other county parks benefit from Matching Grants Program

ice rink 2
PHOTO: Betty Vanderwielen, Seeley-Swan Pathfinder

On the otherwise sleepy Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s, around 200 kiddos and their families laced up skates and took to the ice – slipping, falling and, eventually, gliding – during the grand opening of a new open-air rink in Seeley Lake.

The event served as the community’s introduction to the ice rink, which has been in the works for about a year. Located at the elementary school’s athletic fields, it’ll provide a new way for families and others to get out and about during long Montana winters.

“Kids here don’t have as much opportunity to be active during the winter months,” says Garry Swain, a board member of the Regional Outdoor Center for Kinetic Sports (ROCKS), which spearheaded the project. “This gives them another outlet to get down there and just have a ball, for free.”

The rink will be open during daylight hours, with a crew of volunteers committed to keeping the ice clear and flooding the rink to smooth it over whenever necessary. ROCKS also keeps about 40 pairs of skates in various sizes at the rink, free for anyone to borrow.

The organization, which provided $7,000 in seed money to kick-start the project, was able to put the finishing touches on the rink, including purchasing a snow blower to help clear the ice, thanks to a $10,000 matching grant awarded by the Missoula County Parks and Trails Advisory Board.

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PHOTO: Betty Vanderwielen, Seeley-Swan Pathfinder

The Parks and Trails Matching Grants Program leverages partnerships with local nonprofits and community groups to maintain county parks and other public recreation areas. In these partnerships, the Parks and Trails Advisory Board provides planning assistance and funding, while the partner organization matches those funds through a combination of project expenses, in-kind donations and volunteer service hours.

Four other grants, which range from $1,500 to $12,000, will help fund critical capital and maintenance projects to improve parks, trails and recreation areas  in 2019:

  • $1,500 to perform maintenance on the playground and double tennis courts located in Seeley Lake Community Park (Sponsoring organization: Seeley Lake Elementary School District No. 34)
  • $12,000 to install wayfinding markers, benches and/or tables, and finance placement of portalets along the Bitterroot Trail (Bitterroot Trail Preservation Alliance)
  • $4,500 to apply weed and feed lawn treatments and install an irrigation system for the play area east of the barn at Hellgate Lions Park in Bonner (Friends of 2 Rivers)
  • $8,800 for general maintenance of East Missoula Lions Park (East Missoula Lions Club)

“Awarding the matching grants is always an exciting time of year, because we get to see what types of recreation projects county residents are prioritizing,” said Parks and Trails Coordinator John Stegmaier. “It is truly remarkable what our community partners are able to achieve through the use of these matching funds.”

Is there a park or other public recreation site in your area in need of a little TLC? The Parks and Trails Matching Grant Program could help! Applications typically become available in late August, with a mid-October deadline. You can find more details on the ins and outs of applying on the Parks and Trails website. (A quick note: Only sites outside the City of Missoula are eligible for these grants.)

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PHOTO: Betty Vanderwielen, Seeley-Swan Pathfinder