Last year, residents of the Blankenship Bridge/Teakettle Mountain area petitioned the Forest Service to change the Blankenship Bridge gravel bar from unrestricted camping to day use only. The only response was two porta-potties and Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele’s statements that his mission is to provide unrestricted public access.
Since then, fire threats to our surrounding national and private forests and assaults on our river’s waters (and lake) have only become worse … unrestricted illegal campfires and bonfires, human and dog feces and toilet paper everywhere, broken bottles, trash, and even car parts near the summer living sites of dozens of “campers” and RVs. Local residents have reported seeing RV sewage and portable potties being emptied into the river! Rock fire rings are not permitted by the Forest Service at the gravel bar, yet one of our petitioners counted 70 rings from the Blankenship Bridge last summer.
The petition was initiated because the Blankenship Fire Department does not have reliable access to the gravel bar for its fire and EMS vehicles – especially in situations in which panicked campers would be fleeing a fire via the one pot-holed dirt path. Further, the Blankenship volunteer firefighters are obligated to investigate any smoke reports for the Forest Service under interlocal agreements.
District Ranger Rob Davies says that his hands are tied without an environmental assessment and falls back on the in-process Comprehensive River Management Plan (which is potentially years away). However, the “2010 Decision Notice” of former District Ranger DeHerrera gives him emergency powers. Human sewage and automotive fluids would certainly seem to qualify as emergency problems.
The Forest Service is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the Wild and Scenic Flathead River and the surrounding Flathead National Forest. It clearly is failing that responsibility. Both rangers Davies and Steele have admitted that they don’t have the enforcement person power to monitor or enforce regulation compliance on the gravel bar. The obvious answer is to restrict camping and set up a “river host” to monitor day and night activities. If you feel the same, please call them and let them know.
Dan Diamond, board member
Friends of the Flathead River
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