The paradox of improved access

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Main concerns on the North Fork remain the same from year-to-year, can only be solved by government agencies and are most often controversial.

Biggest battle that has been going on the longest is probably the main North Fork Road. To pave or not to pave? However you feel about this issue there is no doubt the road is much improved since 1950.

It has been paved from Columbia Falls to Canyon Creek, raised and widened from Canyon Creek to Whale Creek Road and tons of gravel have been placed as far as Whale Creek. The FLAP grant is supposed to improve the road from Trail Creek to the border and from Polebridge to Glacier Park.

Perhaps it was unintended, but the road improvements have created a new concern — too many people. The increased traffic is more dangerous every year. More and more people are living in the North Fork year-round and typically make at the least one trip to town every week. Not to mention more summer homes and more and more domestic disputes between neighbors, especially those places on one-acre lots, with all assuming they are living in the wilderness.

Ignored are the side effects. The boat launch a the border is often overloaded and now parking is inadequate. So why improve the road to that site so more people are encouraged to use it?

Same thing in Glacier Park. Bowman and Kintla campgrounds turn away campers most of the summer.

If road improvements continue — for the expressed reason of increasing outdoor recreation, then the agencies must increase infrastructure.

I haven’t heard one word about reopening the Upper Big Creek campground on the Flathead Forest side or reopening the Bowman Creek or River campground on the Glacier Park side. Nevermind new facilities or fixing up Sondreson Meadows as a real campground with fire pits, tables and toilets.

Oh yeah, the Forest Service is doing a three-year study of the river plan which still has 18 months to run. In the meantime, no changes, let alone improvements. However, the idea of river floating permits is back in the news. How will that improve recreational access? The answer is — it will not. It will create a new miniature bureaucracy which will make it less convenient for local recreationists. I float when the weather is right — 70 degrees at launch time with prospects of warming. That means I may decide at 9 a.m. to float at 10 a.m. I am not going to reserve a time next week, let alone pay for the privilege.

Finally, ever increasing numbers of people means more than campgrounds. We need law enforcement on the road, especially in the summer. More Forest Service and Fish and Game law enforcement year round, not just a better road and more people,

What do you think?

Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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