Friday, April 23, 2021

Thoughts on commercial use

| April 7, 2021 7:45 AM

In Columbia Falls the grass is greening up and at Trail Creek the snow is melting and we have patches of mud. Soon the creeks will rise and turn muddy and mosquitoes will start whining as they search for fresh blood. The North Fork Road is actually very rough but it is open. Since the road is almost always open, there are now more yearround residents than ever before. There are also more landowners like me who winter in the Flathead Valley but are able to visit the North Fork for a day or a weekend.

With more landowners in residence or visiting more frequently, we also have recreational use doubling, or more, every year. Most of us have snowmobiles, ATVs or boats for floating the river— or all three. All of this increased human activity threatens the things we all love most about the North Fork.

In my view both Glacier Park and the Flathead National Forest (who together own something like 90 plus percent of the North Fork land) have done a miserable job of managing this national treasure. Neither of them have enough law enforcement and the Montana Highway Patrol

only investigates accidents, and even then only slowly and reluctantly. In my lifetime the Forest Service has closed both North Fork Ranger stations (Big Creek and Ford) and turned them into rentals, along with Ninko Cabin, Wurtz, Schnaus and Rover while closing campgrounds, doing less and less trail maintenance and still promoting more recreationists into the area with less and less infrastructure.

Lack of agency management makes it all the more important that landowners are active in land use planning and in continuing and increasing dialogue with the agencies, especially the U.S. Forest Service. We are the ones on the ground and we are the ones who are most aware of what we can lose.

Fifty years ago there were no snowmobiles, ATVs or side-by-sides and the only boats on the river were war surplus rubber boats. Actually, fifty years ago there were bicycles but nothing like today’s multi-speed cycles and mountain bikes, not to mention the new battery- powered bikes.

All of these, in addition to personal use, have commercial possibilities. Already, rental snowmobiles are heavy users of the

Canyon Creek area, and every year there are requests for more special use permits involving everything from helicopters to bicycles. Will the agencies step up? Will Flathead County pass regulations? Or will planning be left to the private sector?

Think about it!

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