Flathead Rivers Alliance Receives Grant to Improve ADA Accessibility

The $30,411 grant through the Flathead National Forest and Flathead Resource Advisory Committee will help improve a dozen access sites that don’t meet standards

By Beacon Staff
A paddler navigates the North Fork near Polebridge on the boundary of Glacier National Park on July 31, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A local nonprofit group has received a $30,411 grant to improve accessibility standards on 12 vehicle access sites along the north and middle forks of the Flathead River to better comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For the Flathead Rivers Alliance, the grant money helps implement the second phase of its multi-year project to improve ADA accessibility on the Wild and Scenic Flathead River. The grant was made possible through a partnership with the Flathead National Forest and the Flathead Resource Advisory Committee, according to a joint press release from the organizations.

“The goal of this project is to provide those living with a disability more direct access to, and benefits stemming from, our natural resources,” the release states.

To complete the project, the Flathead Rivers Alliance will collaborate with a mix of private and public partners, including DREAM Adaptive Recreation, Flathead National Forest, Glacier National Park, Jackola Engineering and Architecture, Summit Independent Living, HydroLogistics, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Underwater Soldiers, Glacier Raft Company, Wild River Adventures, Glacier Guide and Montana Raft Company, and other stakeholders.

Formed in 2019, the Flathead Rivers Alliance is a nonprofit dedicated to preservation of and accessibility on all three forks of the Flathead River. Through education, stewardship and outreach the organization’s executive director, Sheena Pate, forges partnerships and marshals volunteers to help maintain the health of the Flathead River, as well as ensure access and enjoyment for all users.

Last year, the group and its partners tackled the first phase of the ADA-accessibility project by assessing the conditions of a dozen river access sites and hosting a stakeholder workshop. The on-site assessments and workshop produced conceptual designs and recommendations for two top-priority access sites at Moccasin and West Glacier for Flathead National Forest’s consideration. The second phase will produce conceptual designs for the remaining 10 access sites; finalize and prioritize recommendations for each of the sites; and produce an ADA/Universal Design River User Guide to navigate existing conditions.

On the North Fork Flathead River, the sites are: Border, Polebridge, Ford, Big Creek, Great Northern Flats, and Glacier Rim. On the Middle Fork Flathead River, the sites are Bear Creek, Essex, Cascadilla, and Paola, in addition to Moccasin and West Glacier.

“The Forest Service is committed to integrating accessibility into the full range of recreation opportunities while protecting natural resources and settings so that people of all ages and abilities have the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors together,” according to a prepared statement from Deputy Flathead National Forest Supervisor Tami MacKenzie. “The Flathead Rivers Alliance has been an instrumental part of this opportunity and the Flathead National Forest is excited to be partnering with FRA.”

Julie Tickle, the executive director of DREAM Adaptive Recreation, emphasized the project’s importance by pointing out that one in four adults, or 61 million people, in the United States have a disability.

“It is critical that this historically marginalized group is better included in our communities, including in the outdoor recreation space, and that they have access to all the benefits that stem from it,” Tickle stated.

Flathead Rivers Alliance is seeking funding for the remaining $13,000 to complete Phase II of Removing Barriers for ADA Accessibility project. Contact Sheena Pate at [email protected] for donations specific to the project. Stakeholder workshops will be held in spring 2024.

The third phase will span multiple years, during which the Flathead National Forest will tackle as many improvements as the agency can based on funding and permitting, Pate said.

For more information on this project, upcoming events and resources visit www.flatheadrivers.org.