Century-long river closure lifted


Century long river closure lifted

MISSOULA, Mont. - For the first time in decades, part of the Blackfoot River once closed to floaters is open again in the Milltown section. It's open at the Weigh Station fishing access site above Bonner, through the confluence with the Clark Fork River, since the removal of the Milltown Dam.

Even though that section is now open, there are still some big safety concerns. Officials are saying that there is debris in the river, left over from what used to be a former industrial workplace and they are cautioning people to be very careful.

Some floaters are taking full advantage of the opening day.

"I think it's a big deal for Missoula in general. You know, it's a great way for boaters to recreate in the river to boat into town," said Dylan Shultz, a river guide with the Lewis and Clark Trail Adventures.

Shultz and his group were one of the very first groups to head out on the river from the access. Even though they've never been down it, they know the trip comes with risks.

"We always take the proper safety precautions. You always want to make sure you're prepared, have life jackets, you know, of course, scout the river before you're going down," said Shultz.

But Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials are saying there's even more to be aware of.

"We have submerged logs. We have logs that are sticking up out of the riverbank. Out of the actual bed of the river, there's metal and other kinds of glass and things on the shore," said Christine Oschell, FAS Program Manager with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Metal is one of the biggest concerns.

"We've worked really hard over the past few years through cleanup efforts to get a lot of it out. It's just as the water is eroding or kind of building itself a new riverbed, it's exposing things that have been in there for a really long time," said Oschell.

The area was used as an industrial workplace in the past.

"When you're on the river and you actually pull over on the riverbank, you'll see metal. There's saw blades and things like that. You can stay away from that stuff by staying in your boat," said Oschell.

Oschell warns that you need to have shoes and, if you stop on the banks, be careful with your boat.

Before opening the stretch of river, the Fish and Wildlife Commission sought out public comment after they cleaned the area significantly and got a lot of positive feedback.  

The commission adopted a rule in May 2014 that puts the floating and swimming closure on the Blackfoot below Weigh Station FAS from May 1 to June 30 for high water levels, every year.

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