December 12, 2010
The proposed state park at the Milltown Superfund site made considerable headway in 2010 with the receipt of a $2.6 million grant from the Natural Resource Damage Program and a $700,000 federal appropriation received through the work of Montana Senator Max Baucus.
The NRDP grant, submitted by the Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), Missoula County and the Milltown Superfund Redevelopment Working Group, was the product of a park planning effort led by the Working Group that began in 2003. NRDP funds will be used to develop the initial phase of the park at the Milltown Gateway and Confluence areas, as well as acquire 180 acres in the surrounding area. In December, FWP hired a park management specialist (former CFRTAC coordinator Michael Kustudia) to help turn the Working Group's 2008 conceptual park plan into a reality.
In its initial phase, likely to begin late in 2011, roughly two miles of hiking and biking trails will be built along the Blackfoot River from the Milltown pedestrian bridge to the confluence with the Clark Fork. From there the trail will go on, contingent on additional funding, to a second pedestrian bridge across the Clark Fork that would connect to the Kim Williams trail and Missoula. In addition to trails, two pavilions will be built, a small one at the Milltown Gateway and a larger one at the confluence that will offer a vista of the restored rivers and opportunities for interpretation about the restoration effort.
On related fronts, the transfer of roughly 450 acres of land from Northwestern Energy to the state of Montana is nearing its final stage. Before the handoff can be made, it must pass briefly through the jurisdiction of the federal government - the EPA in this case. The US Dept. of Justice is reviewing the transfer, and should finish soon, according to EPA project manager Diana Hammer. The land will be likely transferred to the state Dept. of Environmental Quality for the remaining duration of the remediation and restoration work, but ultimately to FWP for management as a state park.
On the bluff above the former dam site, the construction of a visitor overlook is still on hold while Burlington Northern reviews its portion of another land transfer. First proposed by the EPA in 2005, the project would develop an overlook with fencing, interpretive signage, a trail and parking area at the Milltown bluff. The bluff offers a panoramic view of the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers and surrounding communities. The bluff area will also be included in the new Milltown state park. Once BN attorneys sign off on the project, construction could start in spring of 2011.
Connecting the new state park by trail to Missoula has been central to the Milltown Superfund Redevelopment Working Group vision. The Missoula Park Dept. is seeking permits from the state and access from Montana Rail Link to connect the Kim Williams Trail to trails in the Canyon River development along Deer Creek Road. That project could begin in spring of 2012.
From the Deer Creek Road, Five Valleys Land Trust worked with a local family to acquire land for a trail to connect to the river bank opposite the confluence area. A pedestrian bridge across the Clark Fork, whose design but not construction was funded by the NRDP grant, would connect to hiking and biking trails leading into Milltown and on through to Piltzville and Turah.