Missoula Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gauckler met with reporters on Tuesday afternoon with the Broadway Island in the Clark Fork River as a backdrop to announce that the island will be closed for environmental restoration, necessitating the removal of any remaining campers at the site.

“Because of the pandemic, we've been experiencing a higher level of unsheltered residents in our community, and from time to time we have experienced camping on the site,” said Gauckler. “I want to just remind everybody that the ordinance has always been that there is no camping allowed in public parks, parklands or open spaces. It never has been, nor would we have ever sanctioned camping in a place that's unsafe for people to camp. We just don't do that.”

Gauckler said the county is determined to provide safe spaces for any ‘unsheltered residents’.

“This isn't about displacing anybody,” she said. “There are seldom more than a handful of individuals that are staying there for any length of time. We feel it's critically important that we find appropriate, safe, sanitary places to camp like we were able to do for most of the pandemic, and we'll continue to do that.”

Gauckler said once conditions are right, the area will be opened for the public.

“As soon as we have a better sense of when the high waters are over, and they’re almost always over by the end of June, it appears that we're not going to have a real big flood season but that's yet to be seen,” she said. “When that happens, we'll do a re-grand opening. We'll be working with our partners in the neighborhood to celebrate. It's all about nature, so come out and enjoy. At the same time we'll be operating and doing parallel efforts to make sure all residents in Missoula are in safe places.”

Travis and Lydia

Retiring Missoula Police Public Information Officer Travis Welsh, flanked by his successor Lydia Arnold, said city police will continue to monitor the island for safety.

“We're going to continue to have a presence here because as Donna (Gauckler) said, this is a beautiful park and it should be enjoyed by all citizens,” said Welsh. “We want to help make sure that Parks and Recreation has the opportunity to do what they say they're going to do for reclamation work, and we're going to do our best to let people know that they're not able to be on the park land during this closure by providing them information, but mostly our concern is public safety.”

A press release states ‘closure of the island will likely last about six weeks to address public health and safety concerns through clean-up and mitigation. City staff and local partners are working on identifying safe areas for camping near the city. In observance of the closure, the Missoula Police Department will continue to work collaboratively with the Mayor's Office, Parks and Recreation, and the MFD Mobile Support Teams to conduct extra patrols of the island to enforce state and local laws, including Trespassing, Littering, Illegal Camping, Open containers of Alcohol, and crimes involving illegal drug use. The primary goal will continue to be to educate potential violators of the closure and provide them with information for alternatives and other resources for aid.’

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