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New Prickly Pear fishing access

A bend in Prickly Pear Creek is shown; the creek holds a resident population of brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout as well as spawning fish from the reservoir.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks gave its final approval for a new fishing access site in the Helena Valley earlier this month, with construction expected to begin this spring.

On Dec. 15, FWP Region 4 Supervisor Gary Bertellotti signed the final decision to proceed with plans for the 36-acre Upper Prickly Pear Fishing Access Site located off of York Road. The project will include a bridge, parking area, fencing and construction of a vault latrine.

The site will offer access for recreation including fishing, hiking and hunting. This site is located in HD 388, which means it is a weapons restriction area authorizing archery, shotgun, handgun, muzzleloader, or crossbow only. Fishing on the stream is subject to the general fishing season, which opens in May and runs through November.

FWP received six comments on the project in September, with three in favor, two having concerns and one against. The concerned commenters focused on impacts to the stream and area, including overfishing, dust, weeds, litter and wading through spawning beds.

FWP said it would respond with tighter regulations if necessary, and that several nonprofits have expressed interest in litter control.

FWP acquired the property through Prickly Pear Land Trust, and donations. The 36 acres and adjoining 230 acres were once the proposed Aspen Trails subdivision — a 650 home development. A lawsuit stalled the project and the developer eventually lost the property to bankruptcy.

“It’s kind of surprising there really isn’t a public FWP access site close to town,” said Andy Baur, PPLT executive director. “It’s convenient and a beautiful stretch of water. It adds to the amenities folk will have to take advantage of in the valley.”

Traditionally used for agriculture and grazing, a stone icehouse remains on site, along with some fencing and foundation of the original farmhouse.

Prickly Pear Creek has seen extensive degradation from historic mining and over allocation of water for irrigation, FWP biologist Eric Roberts said. Starting in 2009, some area landowners agreed to put water back in the creek during low flows and irrigate with water from Canyon Ferry Reservoir, he said.

The water used to run dry annually, Roberts said.

With current improvement projects, the number and size of trout has increased, he added.

Biologists found 137 brown trout per mile in 2003 between Canyon Ferry and York roads. In 2010 about two years after the water swap, the number went to 196 fish-per-mile. This year, biologists saw a jump all the way to 409 fish-per-mile.

Surveys included some very nice specimens as well, with some 20-inch brown trout and 20-22 inch rainbows, Roberts said.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com

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