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Missoula’s Waterfront Parks Are About To Get A Huge Makeover.

In early March, the buzz of chainsaws ripping through trees on the Clark Fork’s north bank signaled another eight-year term. 

Every eight years or so, Missoula Storm Water is required to remove anything bigger than four inches in diameter to uphold the levy, which is what most people know as the North Bank of the Clark Fork River in downtown Missoula. 

The steep embankment was put in place to keep downtown from flooding, but by maintaining it (removing any large trees), the riverside looks sparse. Luckily, Missoula Parks and Recreation have a plan to fix it.   

According to Nathan McLeod, the Park & Trail Design and Development Coordinator, Missoula Parks and Rec. passed the North Riverside Parks and Trails Master Plan (PTMP) in November of 2020. An all-encompassing plan to improve downtown Missoula. 

One of the many things addressed in this exciting plan is to replace the trees that keep getting destroyed every eight years, with native plants like the pacific willow. Making the riverside permanently populated with plants. 

The master plan is much more than native plants on the riverside though. McLeod said that in the future, they’ll start designing ways to make both Front and Main Street two-way streets and start designing a more extensive walkway plan. “It’s pretty exciting,” McLeod said, “It encompasses five different parks.”

This means that Caras Park’s amphitheater is getting a new look, as are trails leading to the water. Those changes could start being made by next fall. 

Right now, the levy makes accessing the water difficult for children, the elderly, and anyone with physical disabilities. “We want to put an ADA (American with Disabilities Act) walkway so that everyone can get down to the river and enjoy it,” McLeod said. 

Sadly, this will mean extra construction for downtown Missoula. The Master Plan has the goal of completion in 10 years, but McLeod thinks that seems a little ambitious. This combined with the construction on the Higgins bridge seems like a lot of extra noise and disruption to normalcy.

“But if there’s anything I know about Missoulians, it’s that when they want something done, they’ll get up and do it,” McLeod said. “With Covid especially, the emphasis on open spaces is so important for our mental health and well-being, so this is perfect timing.” 

And John Schmidt, Missoula’s district construction engineer, who oversees the Higgins street bridge construction, and is excited to see his project done.

“The west side should be done by early June, and by November, both sides of the bridge should be open for full use,” Schmidt said. This doesn’t include clean-up or final touches on the bridge that are weather-dependent, but Schmidt is confident they can finish everything by the spring of 2022. 

“Construction has been going really well, and we appreciate the public helping us feel safe and supported,” he said.