COLUMBIA FALLS — A westslope cutthroat trout wriggled in the air at the end of the angler’s line, much to the delight of the small children fishing next to him at the pond.
He removed the fish from his hook and threw it back, also eliciting giggles from the young boy and girl standing next to him, whose fishing poles stretched out over the water in the hopes of snagging a cuttie of their own.
It’s a guarantee here at the newly revamped River’s Edge Park, where Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks stocked the newly dug pond with about 1,000 cutthroat trout just in time for the park’s celebration on June 18.
Dozens of people fished from the pond’s recently excavated edges, with children outnumbering adults three to one. The event, which included a barbecue from FWP and other fishing goodies, coincided with National Go Fishing Day.
“We hope to use this (park and fishing pond) as an educational tool in the future,” said Kenny Breidinger, fisheries manager and biologist for FWP, during a pause in the action. “It’s nice to see people are enjoying it already.”
The new pond is the result of a many-sided collaboration, with the city of Columbia Falls, FWP, and the Flathead Land Trust taking the lead on the project. Paul Travis with the Flathead Land Trust said this is a new kind of project for FLT to take on, given that it usually works to buy land for conservation.
But an educational, public pond stocked with native fish at the mouth of Glacier National Park certainly fit into the FLT mission of conservation through individual engagement and education, he said.
“We’re really excited about it,” Travis said.
The land trust learned that the city wanted to upgrade the park, Travis said, and together the city and foundation received a $100,000 grant from the Bozeman-based LOR Foundation to help fund it. FWP will continue to stock the pond several times a year, while the city will take care of the maintenance. Columbia Falls also received a Community Pond Grant from FWP to support additional site amenities. FWP also committed to help pay for part of the project through the Bill Kamps Memorial Fund.
Tyler Bradshaw, public works director for Columbia Falls, said the pond is just the start of the city’s plan to develop more of the 28-acre park’s potential. Some of the grant money will be used to build a path around the pond, he said, as well as an ADA-accessible fishing pier and bathrooms (the bathrooms are first on the list, Bradshaw said, and should be in by spring at the latest).
Along with being a public fishing spot for families, the pond will also support FWP’s Hooked on Fishing program. Anglers 15 and older must catch and release the trout, while those 14 and under can keep one trout per day.
Many donors across the community helped make the family fishing pond a reality, including Schellinger Construction, Hamilton Excavating, Sands Surveying, Applied Water Consulting, and JD Thinning.
“We’re hoping it turns into a good thing for the community,” Bradshaw said.