BONNER - Spring is officially here and thoughts are turning to warmer outdoor activities like hiking and floating.
Work is continuing at the popular Milltown State Park just east of Missoula, and improvements being made this year will make access easier.
“It’s 645 acres and covers about 2.5 miles along the Clark Fork and 1½ [miles] along the Blackfoot so it kind of sprawls. It’s sort of linear, I guess,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Recreation Manager Michael Kustudia said.
The Milltown Dam was removed 15 years ago and clean-up began, giving birth to Milltown State Park which continues to evolve into a popular recreation destination along the Clark Fork and the Blackfoot rivers.
"It’s kind of the outgrowth of the whole Superfund cleanup. They spent a lot of money removing the dam and restoring rivers and so how does the public get the most benefit from it, it’s a long process and it resulted in the park,” explained Kustudia.
We recently met up with Kustudia at the new trailhead near Bandmann Flats where there’s now parking and other facilities which allow for a nice hike.
“There were folks who would park along the roadside and then hike, which is never a great way to access someplace,” Kustudia noted. “So, we wanted to have a little trailhead here...there is about a dozen parking spots here maybe. Facilities for folks, a trash can and latrine, and the trail that can take you to the overlook or the tunnel.”
Access is a challenge for the sprawling Milltown State Park but they’re making progress. Two years ago, FWP got a 34-acre piece of land donated to them by the Bonner Development Group just off Highway 200 that used to be the Bonner Learning Park.
The state agency is now working with Montana Rail Link to shore up access and FWP hopes to have it ready in the next few months. There’s also work to be done that will eventually connect other areas for pedestrian access including a stretch of the park that is located directly across from the Kettlehouse Amphitheater.
“It’s separated from the rest of the park by about three-quarters of a mile of private property. There's been a recent effort there, and the county has taken the lead on it, but there’s going to be a development in that area that might result in a trail easement,” Kustudia said.
“So, we have two parcels connected which would be really exciting because then you’d have nearly three miles of the Lower Blackfoot publicly accessible,” he continued.
FWP keeps track of visitations and reports that Milltown State Park sees 100,000 people visit annually, especially in the summer with its river access.
It’s small but diverse; and now with a new trailhead, there are sure to be more boots on the ground and rafts in the river.