Development on the ‘Rud? 

Landowners propose kinder, gentler campground on the Blackfoot River

A controversial campground development proposed near Johnsrud Park on the Blackfoot River corridor has been withdrawn by the landowner. While the project isn’t dead, its developers say it will be redesigned and scaled back considerably from the original proposal. And a design consultant says the new and improved campground, comprised of 10 to 20 unplumbed cabins, will be more in keeping with the surrounding area.

McNamara’s Landing is proposed by Potomac residents Gary and Darla Hand, who initially planned to turn a portion of their 38-acre lot into a campground for RVs and cabins.

The Hand property is located on Highway 200 about 14 miles northeast of Missoula next to the Blackfoot River and across from Johnsrud Park.

The original plan, now scrapped, called for 17 RV sites and a dump station, 29 small wooden cabins—20 with plumbing and nine without-—a convenience store and deli, a shower house, swimming pool, spa and two playgrounds. The Hands have since eliminated the RV sites after hearing objections from both the county planning staff and neighboring landowners.

The developer, Ron Ewart of Eli and Associates, says the new plan calls for between 10 and 20 unplumbed cabins, a shower house and an office/convenience store/deli.

Ewart says the new plan, which won’t be completed for a couple of weeks, will not be subject to the county’s public hearing process because the cabins lack plumbing and thus don’t meet the county’s definition of “dwelling,” making it exempt from public review. The Missoula Health Department will have to issue a permit for the septic system required for the shower house, Ewart says.

The Hands tried unsuccessfully to convince the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants that their original development was sorely needed in that area. According to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, some 50,000 people used Johnsrud Park last year. Despite such heavy use, there are only four campgrounds with a total of only 27 camping sites along that stretch of the Blackfoot River from Johnsrud Park to the Roundup campground. Illegal camping is becoming common among campers who can’t find spots to pitch a tent or park an RV.

Though the Hands thought they had a good plan, especially considering the influx of tourists and campers expected for the upcoming Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery bicentennial, the county believed otherwise.

Karen Hughes of the Office of Planning and Grants says that the staff recommended the project be denied by the planning board and the Missoula County Board of Commissioners. The comprehensive plan for the Greenough-Potomac area, which has never been updated since it was first written more than a quarter of a century ago, calls for only one dwelling per 10 acres. There are already two homes on the 38-acre Hand property, both occupied by the Hands and family members.

The commercial use proposed didn’t comply with that comp plan, says Hughes, and there would have been impacts on bull trout, a native fish protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

But it wasn’t only the county planning staff recommendation for denial that swayed the Hands, says Ewart. Neighbors also objected when the project was presented at a public hearing last month. “We felt there were a lot of objections about the RV sites, so we withdrew that part of it,” says Ewart.

That said, Ewart believes that the new campground proposal should go over well with the neighbors. Because the cabins will have no plumbing, it will discourage year-round use. They will be built on a nine-acre portion of the property that was once a gravel pit, and, because they’ll be built of wood, will blend in with the surroundings. There also will be landscaping and restrictions on lighting and signage. The cabin area sits on a bench about 30 feet above and 300 feet back from the river, “and lots of trees in-between.”

“All the features we had built into this will still remain,” says Ewart. “All the things that make this a good proposal. There’s no doubt in my mind these cabins will be far less visible than RVs.”

There also will be a large no-build zone, and the Hands will work with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to provide public access through their property to a hiking trail the BLM eventually plans to develop along the Blackfoot River.

“We came up with a lot of good ideas to make this nice,” Ewart says. “They own about 40 acres and the only place they want to develop is an old gravel pit. The Hand family is really dedicated to making this a really nice spot and they’re going to do all the work. They feel this will be better without all the RVs. Just listening to the opposition helped us understand that. There’s a place for RVs, but maybe this isn’t the place.”

Nevertheless, at least one neighbor remains skeptical. Kathy Terhune is a neighbor who found out about the original RV park proposal only after she was told about it by another neighbor. She hadn’t heard that the Hands had withdrawn their original proposal until she received a call from the Independent. She’s not happy with the Office of Planning and Grant’s notification process, but she did feel somewhat better-—if not wholly convinced—about the revised proposal.

“It’s more palatable,” says Terhune. “Part of the concern of the neighbors was the RVs and the traffic along [Highway] 200 trying to turn in and out of there. It’s more acceptable, but I’m still not happy about it. It’s a better solution, but the best case scenario would be for them to stay within the comp plan.”

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