MISSOULA — It was just two years ago that the City of Missoula opened the West Broadway Island with a vision for it to be a popular riverfront park for all to enjoy. But now, city officials will close the area to the public while they deal with unforeseen issues.
Missoula Parks and Recreation restored the area along the Clark Fork River, known as West Broadway Island in 2019 and opened it to the public as a place to enjoy beauty and natural habitat. Now, 19 months later, they’re temporarily closing it to address a number of issues including illegal campground use.
“There are a number of birds on the island who are fledging or nesting, we’re going to let those things happen, we’re going to deal with some noxious weeds as soon as the water recedes,” noted Missoula Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler. “We’re going to try to stop and reduce the erosion routes that are appearing, and then we want to completely stop illegal behavior that generates undesirable results."
The illegal behavior Gaukler is referring to is specific to those camping on West Broadway Island. She says the disruption caused by the pandemic -- along with other factors -- have led to homeless setting up tents. She says it’s not only illegal but unsafe.
“The ordinance has always been there is no camping allowed in public parks and parklands or open spaces. This area is unsafe, we cannot install any sanitary facilities, we cannot provide the kind of support services that are appropriate for safe camping,” Gaukler said.
Gaukler says they are continuing to work with others on finding a short- and long-term solution to the issue. “The city, and the county, and the nonprofits are committed to providing both camping and most importantly, we want to get people in homes, we know that that’s where they’re successful."
Now that the pandemic is slowing down, the goal is to take the next few weeks to clean the area, and put the focus back where it started, which is to have a safe, family-friendly place where people can enjoy all of the beauty and nature that downtown Missoula has to offer.
“When you create great spaces and you design them for their intended use, and you encourage the public to access it regularly you get great behavior,” noted Gaukler.
Barring any flooding issues along the Clark Fork River, city officials plan to have West Broadway Island back open to the public in about six weeks.