Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks lists on its website 17 river access sites on the Clark Fork between Drummond and St. Regis. There are boat ramps at Schwarz Creek, Kelly Island, Tarkio and Forest Grove. What you will not find on the list is a ramp in the place you might expect it most: Missoula.
That's about to change.
Toward the end of last summer, Missoula anglers, floaters and boaters got to sample the Silver Park boat ramp, a $30,000 facet of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency's Silver Park project just west of Ogren-Allegiance Park. The ramp freed up the section of the Clark Fork between East Missoula and downtown to drift boats and large rafts, which once had to be dragged out of the river behind the DoubleTree and Holiday Inn hotels. A full season with an urban take-out was anticipated by many, but this spring boaters once again found the Silver Park ramp closed.
MRA Assistant Director Chris Behan says although the ramp is completed, construction on the rest of the $5.7 million Silver Park project is not. The entire plan calls for replacing a railroad trestle and creating a 173-spot parking lot and new walking paths. His agency did not feel comfortable with boaters using a ramp in an active construction zone.
"We were hoping to open the ramp by June 1, but we're dealing with 100 years worth of industrial use," he says, referring to the land between the ballpark and California Street that was once home to a sawmill. "There have been delays." He says he hopes boaters will be able to use the ramp by the end of June.
Though the new ramp will offer the owners of large watercraft an easy place to take out, Behan says it's not ideal for other situations and river users. The river downstream of Silver Park is braided and difficult to navigate, making it dangerous as a put-in. Also, since the flow on that side of the Clark Fork is swift and deep, he says it might be hard for tubers and kayakers to exit the river there. At some point, he says the city hopes to have signage directing the users of light watercraft to the shallower north side of the river. MRA hopes to post those signs by mid-July.