Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Fish, Wildlife & Parks has released a draft strategy for managing the Fish Creek State Park and surrounding Wildlife Management Area, but some are already demanding more trails for motorized recreation.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the Legislative Environmental Quality Council, FWP Region 2 Supervisor Randy Arnold summarized the draft Fish Creek Watershed Restoration Strategy, which was released to the public on Sept.18.

The increasing recreational use – some of it illegal – over the past few years prompted the need for better management than what was occurring under an interim management plan.

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“Over the last few years, I’ve been hearing more from my staff concerns about that increase in recreation,” Arnold said. “We’re seeing resource impacts, human waste, expanding dispersed campsites. It’s not unusual for us to have the designated campsites at fishing access sites be full in the peak summer months, the dispersed sites being full, and campers going into that watershed pioneering new sites. We’re also hearing concerns from our public about human waste, increased angling pressure and generally concerned about the increase in recreation.”

Arnold explained how, with help from the University of Montana Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy, FWP first sought input about a year ago from a wide array of local stakeholders, including hunters, anglers, mountain bike riders and motorized vehicle groups. Then they conducted a broader public-user survey. Once they had an idea of how they wanted to structure the strategy, they held a few public meetings to get feedback, and they got plenty at the February 28 meeting in Missoula.

Arnold said a few common themes were present in almost all the comments and meetings. People wanted transparency in FWP’s development process and responsible stewardship that balances recreation use with fisheries and wildlife management. That’s not surprising for an area that was originally intended as only a wildlife management area when FWP purchased the 43,000-acre property in 2010.

“They understood that Fish Creek was a really special area, and for many, protecting the fisheries and wildlife health was the highest priority,” Arnold said.

The strategy encourages more development at two designated campsites, more hardening at dispersed sites, restoration of the Williams Peak Lookout and potentially more parking for the three motorized vehicle loops.

After Arnold finished, Kerry White, Citizens for Balanced Use spokesman, expressed disappointment in the draft strategy because it includes only 40 miles for OHV use – off-highway vehicles – and it’s all on gravel roads that are already open to vehicles. White originally questioned this during the Environmental Quality Council’s July 26 meeting, which prompted Arnold’s presentation Wednesday.

White said two groups, the Montana Trail Vehicle Association and the Helena-based Capital Trail Riders, had provided input on the 2013 draft management plan to include 155 miles of motorized trail.

“In the draft (strategy), it’s very disappointing that there’s no acknowledgment of Capital Trail Riders or Montana Trail Vehicle Riders even being part of the plan and they go back to the original draft that was put out in 2013. I don’t think that their comments were considered by FWP before they came out with this strategy,” White said. “And I hear Region 2 say we have a lot of human waste. Maybe we put some latrines up. But I think if we’re going to concentrate all the use on the gravel roads, that’s not a desirable opportunity for recreation.”

When FWP tried in 2013 to write the first management plan for Fish Creek, many commenters pushed back against all the development proposed in the draft plan. Among other things, the proposal included construction of a 40- to 60-unit RV campground; a hut-to-hut trail system with rental yurts and access for hikers, bikers and off-road vehicles; and promoting the park as an off-highway vehicle or OHV park.

Hunters and anglers objected to all the development of the park that would affect the surrounding wildlife management area and streams. Based on the response, FWP decided to pause the effort to develop a plan. Until now.

Committee member Sen. Bob Brown, R-Trout Creek, asked Arnold to explain why there weren’t more trails.

“It seems to me that one of the issues are people are going off-road. They don’t want to drive on the road, they’re going off-road so they’re going to tear stuff up. So the development of those trails is an important piece to consider just for that protection,” Brown said.

Arnold said FWP had engaged the Western Montana Trail Riders as one of the stakeholders since they had the most history with the Fish Creek area and worked with the Mineral County Resource Coalition. The group had chosen the trails that were most important to them and offered suggestions on reducing resource impacts, Arnold said.

“What’s been described in draft, and what the Western Montana Trail Riders helped us define, they’ve got a pretty close lens to those trails they think are most appropriate. But we certainly welcome more feedback and input. It’s draft,” Arnold said.

Brown pressed Arnold on whether he was open to adding more trials in the area.

Arnold said he’s already corresponded with the Montana Trail Vehicle Association and the Helena-based Capital Trail Riders on some additional proposals.

“I don’t know how much of that we’re going to be able to accommodate,” Arnold said. “I’ve yet to see the other breadth of comments we’re going to receive, so I’m open to all those until we get to the end of the comment period.”

People can comment on the draft strategy until Oct. 20 by going to

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at

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