MISSOULA — Plans for four new public areas around the former Milltown Dam river confluence are up for public input this month.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks wants to buy two stretches of Blackfoot River shoreline, the bluff overlooking the former dam and the Bonner “B” hillside above Bonner Elementary for a little more than $1 million. The money would come from the state's Natural Resource Damage Program, which manages the $130 million trust settlement with Arco for a century's environmental damage from mining and smelting in Butte and Anaconda.
“It's kind of an evolutionary project — we take a few steps at a time,” said Lee Bastian, FWP's Region 2 parks manager. “It does have a lot of river frontage, and it provides a nice connection between the river and Forest Service land.”
FWP would buy the property from the Nature Conservancy, which in turn got it from Plum Creek Timber Co. That corporation has sold 310,000 acres of former timber land through what's known as the Montana Legacy Project.
Once purchased, FWP would give the 102-acre Bonner “B” property to the Bonner Elementary School District. The school has long hoped to use it as an outdoor classroom, according to district Superintendent Doug Ardiana.
“We could possibly be the first elementary school in the nation with its own community school forest,” Ardiana said. Students already use the hillside for science classes, learning to identify native plants and trees. The school would like to expand the trail network on the hillside for physical education and recreation as well, Ardiana said.
The school district wouldn't have to pay for the property, but it would be responsible for controlling weeds, maintaining fences and other maintenance. Ardiana said that would cost about $2,000 a year.
The hillside property has a narrow connection to one of two stretches of future FWP riverbank. The 11 acres on the south bank start at the edge of the former Stimson Lumber Co. mill and extend about 1,300 feet east along Montana Highway 200 to where it makes a hard northeast turn.
On the north side of the river, FWP would get 47 acres along 4,500 feet of the Blackfoot at the base of Woody Mountain. The area has wide sandbars at the water's edge and a former railroad bed for access from the millsite. Bastian said negotiations are ongoing about whether to allow motorized access through the private land of the mill site or open it to foot and bike traffic only.
The bluff overlook was the regular gathering point for milestones of the dam removal during the past three years. The 19-acre site could eventually have a parking lot and viewing platform overlooking the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers, as well as trails leading down to the water.
FWP has already been approved for a $2.6 million grant from the NRDP to buy the land, develop it and maintain it for five years. After that, operations and maintenance money would have to be built into the regular FWP budget.
The FWP Commission is going to review the project in December. If approved, it must also pass muster with the state Land Board.
All of this work is separate from another park project that will go in the elbow of the two rivers. NorthWestern Energy owns 450 acres around the confluence, and is on track to pass it to the state next year.