Tag Archives: Milltown Reservoir Superfund Site

A Visit to Milltown State Park

Back in November we talked about Milltown State Park in Missoula, Montana, and how a state park is made. A short while ago, we paid a visit to Milltown to see how it is shaping up.

Good sky!

Seems fair to say that, though still not fully open, the park and its overlook certainly have merit.

During this visit on a resplendent June weekday, there were relatively few others at the park, and most of those were Montana Conservation Corps workers who were focused on a project off the paved overlook walkway. The overlook is the focal point of the park’s facilities, and it’s no small wonder why.

Good day for readin' outside.

The view of some of the mountains visible at the park foregrounded by interpretive materials and the railing that lines the Milltown State Park Overlook.

The park’s interpretive material details the history of the river confluence and the people who depended on its waters. It also elaborates on the building of the Milltown Dam in 1908, as well as the massive flood that buried heavy metals, arsenic, and other mining waste at the base of the dam, months after it was constructed. Some of the best information details the incredible effort it took to remove the dam and poisonous sediments, and restore the confluence to the Place of Big Bull Trout, as it is traditionally known to the Salish, who fished the confluence long before pioneers and businessmen settled and dammed it up.

A gorgeous, sunny day for river viewing.

The main overlook showcases the open, sweeping grandeur of the restored confluence of the Clark Fork River.

In addition to the overlook, there is a two-table picnic area and trails that amble into the wooded hills that frame the confluence. In all, the views from the overlook are expansive; the views from the trail are in touch with the quiet wooded parts of western Montana, shaded by large and often young conifers. The trail extends about two miles down, and deeper into the park toward the river.

Dirt path through pines!

The unpaved trail extends through the trees and down toward the river. It shoots cleanly off the paved pathway to the overlook.

Milltown State Park, though still building toward its total fruition, is a marvel of modern habitat and environmental rehabilitation. Through the hard work and perseverance of park staff, community members and organizations, volunteers, and local tribal leadership in the face of local, state and federal-level hurdles, the confluence has become a wonderful vista, well worth the jot from Interstate 90. Milltown is not just beautiful and improving all the time, but represents wholesomeness achievable to all of us, if we endeavor for the good of future generations, and the health of our natural resources.

Speaking of natural resources, there’s no time like the present to get out and enjoy them! Pocket Ranger® mobile apps make trip planning easy, and app features make exploring the parks you visit a delight.

Milltown State Park: How a State Park is Made

There are over 700 million visits to the more than 6,600 state-run parks, recreation areas, historic sites, beaches, and nature preserves across America every year. From sea to shining sea, we all probably have a favorite state park, either for our own enjoyment or for the satisfaction they serve our families. It’s plain reality that visitors are brought closer to nature through public spaces that invite and encourage them to get back to basics and relax away from whatever their responsibilities are outside the park’s boundaries.

But one wonders: How do the parks come into being? We talked about the CCC’s work in the past, but what has to happen to make all the hiking, camping, swimming, boating, and other outdoor activities we enjoy on thousands and thousands of acres of public land possible?

Clark Fork River

The Clark Fork River on what is actually a fairly average day. It’s always quite good-looking. [Image: clarkfork.org]

Fortunately this process is presently unfolding just east of Missoula, MT where Milltown State Park is entering the last stages leading up to it fully opening its doors finally.

The park is a 500-acre parcel located at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers, about nine miles east of Missoula. The confluence was the setting for the Milltown Dam for nearly a century. The dam provided hydroelectric energy to the mills in the area so they in turn could process timber for shoring up shafts in Butte’s copper mines. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, the site was investigated and designated a Superfund Site due to toxic, heavy metal saturation in over two million cubic yards of sediment directly surrounding and downstream from the dam, which had contaminated the local water supply. The remediation and restoration began in 2006, and with the help of local, state, and national organizations, was completed in 2012.

The Superfund Site at Milltown Dam, being addressed.

The area near the Milltown Dam shortly after its breaching in 2008. [Image: buttectec.org]

The building of Milltown State Park was the goal of the cleanup project from its start, and the original conceptual design was drawn up in 2007 between the Milltown Superfund Redevelopment Working Group; the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks; the National Park Service Rivers & Trails Program; and the Idaho-Montana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. The grant proposal to pay for building the park was submitted in 2009 to the Natural Resource Damage Program.

In 2013 and 2014, Montana State Parks drafted and finalized an Environmental Assessment to be implemented, “pending resolution of access issues.” That latter part refers to the 16-acre plot of privately held land the state would need to make a road and parking lot for park access.

After numerous efforts to bargain for the land and direct involvement on the part of Montana’s governor, it seems as of November 2015 the private company is ready to part with the specific 10-acres needed for the park’s access road—in a manner that is welcome to both the state and the landowner. The final Environmental Assessment on this acquisition is open to the public for questions and comments until November 25th. The park is hopeful it will break ground in the spring and will be up and running by mid- to late-fall 2016.

At present, the park’s main feature is access to a trail that settles into an overlook facing the Clark Fork, a rugged, robust river that makes its way through the Hellgate Canyon and into the Missoula Valley. The overlook is open for day-use purposes, like picnicking or bird watching.

Milltown State Park Information Booth

Some information available at the park that will hopefully be fully open by next fall. [Image: www.kpax.com]

So in a sense, Milltown State Park has been a park-in-the-making over the last decade and is growing toward its potential, thanks to the help of many citizens, environmentalists, and government agencies. A state park, it turns out, is made of the work, time, and attention invested by people who recognize the importance of our relationship with nature and its preservation.

Whew! Knowing all that, it’s easy to feel grateful for the many ways we can enjoy the beautiful parks we already have, which is a good reason to download your state’s Pocket Ranger® mobile app and get on out there today!