In lieu of a formal public access site at the region’s newest wildlife management area near Bad Rock Canyon in Columbia Falls, which is slated to include a primitive trail system, visitors have been accessing the 772-acre parcel along the Flathead River by parking along a U.S. Highway 2 right-of-way and walking into the property via River Road.
To provide more formal access, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is proposing to construct a 12-vehicle gravel parking area along the highway northeast of Columbia Heights to provide a formal public access point to the Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
According to a project description and request for public comment, the parking area’s dimensions would be 150 feet by 50 feet and would be delineated by boulders to prevent vehicle access beyond the lot’s boundaries. The entrance would be gated during annual closures from Dec. 2 through May 15 to protect elk winter range. A small information kiosk would also be installed and provide information and to orient visitors.
Pending project approval, construction of the parking area and associated infrastructure would commence in the fall of 2023 with an anticipated completion date of Sept. 30.
The property is located just east of Columbia Falls and south of the Flathead River and is one of the Flathead Valley’s largest remaining undeveloped riverfront properties. It serves as critical winter range for elk, moose and white-tailed deer, and provides important habitat connectivity for grizzly bears, bull trout and 43 other wildlife species identified as having unique conservation needs, according to the environmental assessment. In addition, the property’s wetlands and riparian habitat help safeguard the water quality of the Flathead River and Flathead Lake.
In December 2021, the state officially bought the property, completing the highly anticipated transaction with former landowner Columbia Falls Aluminum Company (CFAC), a subsidiary of Glencore, Inc. FWP now manages the property as the Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area.
FWP’s Wildlife Management Areas are managed with wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation as the priority, but the agency’s acquisition of the Bad Rock property also secured permanent public access, which will include a limited opportunity for hunting and a three-mile community trail constructed by Gateway to Glacier Trail, Inc. for use by hikers, bikers, birdwatchers and others. However, because the property will be closed to the public Dec. 2 through noon on May 15 each year to protect the winter range of elk.
FWP in 2019 partnered with the Flathead Land Trust to purchase and conserve the property two years ago, with CFAC entering into an open agreement with both parties.
Public comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. on June 27, either by email to FWP biologist Franz Ingelfinger at [email protected] or by mail to FWP, 490 North Meridian Road, Kalispell, 59901.
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