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Mike Kustudia, manager of Milltown State Park, describes some of the future improvements to the park.

The last barrier to construction of facilities at Milltown State Park fell on Friday with a land donation from former owner International Paper.

“It looks like maybe we’re getting to the finish line,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional parks director Chet Crowser said on Friday. “We know folks have been anticipating this a long time.”

While crucial acres around the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork have been in public hands since the 1980s, road access was not. The best road into the confluence crossed Champion International property (IP’s predecessor). While the company allowed entry, it kept the right to close the road at any time.

The property also included a landfill that the state wasn’t willing to own, in case a cleanup became necessary. The latest deal splits the land into two parcels. IP will keep about six acres including the landfill. FWP will take title to 10 acres with the road easement.

The Friends of Two Rivers community group got conversations going with IP in 2011, as a massive effort to remove Milltown Dam and a century’s worth of toxic sediment in its reservoir neared completion. IP offered to donate the necessary land in 2012, but the complex negotiations bogged down.

Gov. Steve Bullock got involved in 2014 and talks resumed. Missoula County officials also kept the attention focused.

“Missoula County would like to thank Governor Bullock for reaching out to International Paper almost two years ago,” Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said in an email. “His involvement raised the importance of this access. I also want to thank International Paper for the generous donation of the land needed to access the river confluence at Milltown State Park. I look forward to the development of the park for the public to enjoy.”

Park manager Michael Kustudia said construction bids should be released this weekend. The project calls for paved parking lots, latrines, trails to the riverbank, a walk-in boat ramp and picnic/interpretative plaza.

The area will remain closed to the public during construction, and may not be available this summer, Kustudia said. A previous FWP seasonal safety closure of the Blackfoot River confluence area has been rescinded, but boaters aren’t allowed to take out at the park.The Montana Department of Transportation also plans to remove two freeway bridge piers just upstream from the park that have made floating the Blackfoot River dangerous where it crosses beneath Interstate 90.

When that work is done, Kustudia said there may be opportunities to connect trails from the confluence park to the Black Bridge area upstream. Separate proposals consider connections to a now-private park area east of the confluence along the Clark Fork, and to the City of Missoula’s network along the Kim Williams Trail and Bandmann Flats.

We see the whole Milltown State Park area as a hub that could link the communities,” Crowser said. “It would extend to Missoula and out to Turah.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.