Milltown park closer

The proposed Milltown State Park east of Missoula is making significant headway this year. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks shifted into a more hands-on role in January when it hired Michael Kustudia to act as park manager. Last month, the agency secured planners for the project. And next week, public comment will close on FWP's acquisition of 465 acres that represent the park's core.

"That is the heart of the park, for sure," Kustudia says of the area surrounding the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers.

But as FWP prepares for its first phase of park development, a series of financial, environmental, and administrative tasks loom. One of the most immediate is addressing concerns from Milltown residents about increased recreational traffic.

"We've heard all along that nobody wants to see another Johnsrud scene," Kustudia says, referring to the Blackfoot River's longstanding party spot, Johnsrud Park. "But we've always borne that in mind. This is a community out there." Kustudia says FWP is currently looking into mitigating local concerns by relocating its proposed parking lot away from Milltown to a construction staging area recently used by the Army Corps of Engineers for work on the I-90 bridge.

In collaboration with the Milltown Superfund Redevelopment Working Group, FWP has proposed a network of trails and interpretive signs and a pedestrian bridge across the Clark Fork River. Funding for development will come largely from a HUD grant and from the Natural Resource Damage Program, which allocates money for restoration in the Clark Fork drainage and currently owns the central chunk of land in FWP's acquisition proposal. But Kustudia estimates the cost of the bridge construction—a later priority—between $1.75 million and $2.5 million. "We need to do a little bit of fundraising yet," he says.

Perhaps the longest enduring component of the Milltown State Park project will be melding FWP's ownership with the NRDP's remediation responsibilities. FWP's environmental assessment for the pending acquisition states that the NRDP "would continue its management oversight on river restoration work into the coming years." While the NRDP expects to complete much of the remediation work in 2011, the Clark Fork River floodplain is "in a fragile state of recovery" and currently closed to the public.

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