MISSOULA — While the summer float season has come to a close, Missoula County and its partners are still searching for ways to improve the safety at several Clark Fork River access sites east of Missoula.
Commissioners in August first expressed concern over vehicles lining the shoulder along Highway 200 at the Sha-Ron Fishing Access site once the small parking lot fills.
Last week, they expanded that concern to highway parking near Tamarack Road, which provides access to a second popular location under the Interstate 90 bridge.
“At the peak of tuber hatch, that fishing access at Sha-Ron fills up in minutes and cars park along the highway in quite a dangerous way,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “We’ve struggled for a long time to figure out if there’s a potential alternative. We’d love to get that problem gone before someone is hit.”
The Montana Department of Transportation recently conducted a land survey on an adjacent easement located just up the river from Sha-Ron. While the survey suggests there’s room to provide parking, MDT doesn’t own the lot.
Finding a solution would involve Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
“FWP has reached out and started coordinating with our real estate section,” said MDT project engineer Jacquelyn Smith. “Our surveyors are working on filing the retracement survey for that area to correct where that easement line is so it matches what the deed history shows. They plan on having that done around November.”
Just up the river, Missoula County recently placed parking restrictions below the Interstate-90 bridge on Tamarack Road, located east of Sha-Ron closer to Bonner. That has prompted some recreators to park along Highway 200, creating a similar safety issue to what’s taking place at Sha-Ron.
The state opened Milltown State Park last year at the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers. The site offers ample parking, though the float is longer. The county is working to direct recreators to that location to keep them from parking along the Highway.
“Last summer, the county did pave Tamarack and Juniper and posted signs,” said Shane Stack, director of public works for Missoula County. “The road leading to the state park is in really good condition. We’ve done quite a bit to get people there.”
While the county works to find a parking solution for Sha-Ron and direct those at Tamarack to the state park location, it’s also exploring its enforcement options.
But deputy county attorney John Hart said the county may have to approach the state transportation commission to enforce parking restrictions along the highway.
“Where it stands right now today, I’m not convinced this is something Missoula County has the authority to enforce,” he said. “I don’t have a definitive answer on that. It seems to me going to the transportation commission would be an appropriate step to consider.”