NewsMissoula County


Clark Fork River access project at Caras Park heading toward design

Caras Park Work
Caras Park Design
Posted at 3:16 PM, Jan 12, 2023

MISSOULA - Calling it an amazing opportunity, the Missoula City Council on Wednesday amended an existing Caras Park contract to add design work to the costs of a planned Clark Fork River access project.

The city last year received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to build the project, which will improve access to the river, add more viewing options and improve water quality at the popular recreation site.

However, designing the project was outside the scope of work. The amendment approved Wednesday adds the $131,000 design contract, which will be funded by the Downtown Missoula Partnership.

“Of all the improvements in these plans, access in Caras Park was ranked as one of the most desirable improvements,” said city planner Nathan McLeod. “Overall, the goal for this location is to provide an ADA-accessible ramp all the way down to the water. There are no locations in Missoula, or far beyond where there's ADA access down to the river.”

Improvements to Caras Park were envisioned in both the new Downtown Master Plan and the North Riverside Parks and Trails plan. Phase 1 improvements began last year during construction of Beartracks Bride and included a renovated amphitheater, a wider trail, and earthwork to make the park more user-friendly.

Power upgrades, lighting and a new plaza were also included. Plans to improve access to the river were in place, though funding for the project was only recently secured.

“We're expanding the viewing platform, and there's improved stair access and terraced seating,” said McLeod. “It allows us to do restoration work that reduces erosion. We'll plant vegetation that will enhance habitat and provide for better water quality while reducing the temperature of the water by shading the rocks.”

With growing recreational use, erosion of the Clark Fork River bank has emerged as a growing concern. A 2015 count conducted by Missoula Parks and Recreation found that nearly 15,000 people floated under the Madison Street Bridge during the summer water season.

With the increase in river use, the number of user-carved trails also has increased from 14 counted in 2009 to nearly 40 counted in 2017. The result has left more than 400 linear feat of riverbank to erode at an increasing pace.

The Caras Park project will restore and help stabilize an equal length of the riverbank.

“Over the course of the last year, we worked well with parks and recreation to implement Phase 1 of the North Riverside Parks and Trails Plan,” said Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership. “We continue to be a good partner and bring dollars to the table for these types of projects.”

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the Downtown Missoula Partnership have been key players in making the Caras Park project a reality.

“Many times the downtown foundation and partnership are a catalyst and spark for great projects, and other times they're strong supporters for projects,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “Any time we have this strong relationship between downtown and city parks, it's a win-win for our city. I have no doubt this project will enhance the vitality of our downtown.”