Bill to Build Wild Horse Island Dock Passes

Montana State Parks officials hope to build a public dock before 2016

By Justin Franz

With the passage of House Bill 82 in Helena, Montana State Parks officials will begin looking into building a new public dock on Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Hertz, amends a law that is already on the books in Montana that prohibits the construction of docks on state-owned islands. The law, MCA 77-1-405, was established in 1997 to help “retain the integrity of the recreational experience associated with Montana’s rivers and lake islands.” Hertz’s bill makes an exception for Wild Horse Island.

Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks asked Hertz to sponsor the bill.

“It’s the only island state park in Montana and we should have a public dock to get to it,” said Hertz, a Republican from Polson.

Wild Horse Island is the largest island in Flathead Lake and has been protected since 1978. It is home to numerous animals, including wild horses.

The only way to access the 2,160-acre island is by boat at six different access points. There are no public boat docks and Dave Landstrom, regional manager for Montana State Parks, said issues have arisen in recent years with visitors using privately owned docks. Until now, people with large motorized boats have been unable to dock without getting their feet wet.

Now that Montana State Parks has the authority to build a dock on the island, the agency will begin a Montana Environmental Policy Act assessment. Landstrom said the agency would talk with local shareholders, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, about where the dock should be located. One possible location is Skeeko Bay.

Landstrom said the dock would likely be 60 feet long and 8 feet wide and able to comfortably accommodate four boats. He said on busy days, boaters would need to pull up to the dock, unload their passengers and gear and then anchor the boat away from the dock to leave room for others.

“As we see more visitors at Wild Horse Island the need for a public dock has become more apparent,” Landstrom said.

Visitation at Wild Horse Island and all of Montana’s state parks has steadily increased in recent years. In 2010, 16,900 people visited the island; last year visitation reached 19,700.

If Montana State Parks does build a dock on Wild Horse Island, Landstrom said it could be constructed as early as this summer.