Swan River Site Stays Partially Closed Until Solutions Found

Lake County Commissioners search for parking solutions at popular river access site in Ferndale

By Dillon Tabish

Faced with a quandary involving public access and parking problems, the Lake County commissioners are keeping a popular site along the Swan River closed during weekdays while they search for solutions to a contentious topic.

The Swan River Fishing Access Site on Rainbow Drive in Ferndale, a popular put-in for inner tubers and anglers, will remain partially closed this summer but open on weekends with a law enforcement officer patrolling the area for parking violations. Nearby homeowners have raised concerns over heavy congestion, illegal parking and overcrowding issues, including persistent garbage left at the site. Safety concerns have also emerged along the narrow stretch of road that attracts dozens of vehicles daily during the hot summer months.

Last week the Lake County Parks Board, which includes members of the commission, reviewed the matter and opted to keep the weekday-closure in effect for the time being. The Lake County commissioners plan to meet with officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks about possible solutions, according to Bill Barron, one of the three commissioners.

“We’re going to look at different options that they might be able to assist us with,” he said. “Parking is just going to be a huge issue. People want to shut the river access down to walking entry only. Well that won’t solve the parking issue.”

Barron said the commission hopes to have the issue solved by next summer.

“We do really want to try to take care of it this year,” he said. “Anything we do is going to affect somebody in a negative way. It doesn’t matter what choice we come up with, there’s going to be someone upset.”

Roughly 25 people showed up to last week’s meeting, which typically draws four to five people, Barron said.

“A few people think we need to close it. The vast majority think it should remain open, and they really do want to try to find a solution,” he said. “We’re really glad to see that much public input. That’s what we really need, so when we do come up with a solution, it will be based on citizen input.”

The county access site, which features a paved turnaround and dirt embankment leading to the river, is open on weekends with a sheriff’s deputy patrolling the area for illegal parking and littering.

“I know that’s not ideal but it’s about all we can afford to do right now,” Barron said.

“We just know it’s important to people and we really are trying to deal with it as quickly as we can.”

The Swan River Fishing Access Site is a day-use only public area for hand-launch boats only. It allows access of trailers with a maximum length of 25 feet. It sits off the narrow Rainbow Drive and is the only formal public access site along this stretch of Swan River besides a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks access area downstream.

Gale Decker, another Lake County Commissioner, said solving the parking problem would be fundamental to the entire matter.

“The parking is a big unresolved issue,” he said. “If we could solve that then everything else would fall into place. But right now we don’t have a solution for that.”

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