On July 1,Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will open the Blackfoot River from Weigh Station Fishing Access Site above Bonner through the confluence with the Clark Fork River for the first time since the removal of Milltown Dam.
Boaters that travel down the Blackfoot through the confluence with the Clark Fork will be covering territory that hasn’t been available for over a century while Milltown Dam was in place.
While the Blackfoot River will reopen, the Milltown Superfund restoration work area, on the right bank downstream from the I-90 bridges, remains closed to the public. That means that the next public river access point below the Blackfoot’s Weigh Station site is Sha-Ron Fishing Access Site (FAS), three miles downstream from the confluence on the Clark Fork River.
FWP stresses that the new floating opportunity also includes safety hazards.
“This is both exciting and a time to raise awareness of the dangers that exist on the Blackfoot around Milltown,” said Christine Oschell, FWP Missoula-based FAS Manager. “Boaters should consider their experience level and equipment and examine the potential hazards before traveling this stretch of river.”
Oschell explained that the I-90 bridge piers near the confluence can create dangerous water hydraulics that could hold or flip boats that get too close. And although cleanup crews removed many timbers and other old mill equipment, many of the exposed and hidden debris remain in the river.
Because of these concerns, the FWP Commission adopted a rule in May 2014 that puts a seasonal floating and swimming closure on the Blackfoot below Weigh Station FAS from May 1 to June 30, when water levels and dangers are highest.
“We’ve placed new signs at upriver access sites that identify some of the known river hazards and location of the closed Superfund restoration work area,” Oschell said. “We want everyone to be aware that as the river continues to adjust to its free-flowing conditions, new debris is scoured from the banks and water dynamics can vary greatly.”
FWP reminds boaters to follow river safety tips on this and all rivers, including wearing a life jacket, watching for debris, staying clear of the bridge piers and other entrapment hazards, , traveling in groups and assessing your skill level before attempting unfamiliar stretches of river.