HELENA - Montana has two new fishing access sites and a new state park - including the place where the Lewis and Clark Expedition formally noted they were leaving the Plains and entering the Rocky Mountains.
The five-member Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission voted Thursday to acquire two fishing access sites on the lower Blackfoot River near Missoula and Tower Rock - a craggy outcrop of volcanic rock near Cascade along the Missouri River north of Helena.
Tower Rock is the point where members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition declared they were officially entering the Rocky Mountains and leaving the expansive plains behind them, said Doug Monger, administrator of the State Parks Division. Members of the expedition climbed near the point on their way to the Pacific Ocean. At the time, they believed a water route to the Pacific was just on the other side of the mountains, which they erroneously thought was a simple mountain ridge.
All three acquisitions cost the state $200,000 - although none of it was paid with state tax dollars.
The commissioners voted 4-1 to add Weigh Station and Angevine fishing access sites - both within 12 miles of Missoula. Only Commissioner John Brendan from Scobey voted against the acquisition.
Both sites have been informally used by the public for about 20 years, said Chris Hunter, head of the state Fisheries Division.
Weigh Station is about six acres in size, Hunter said. Plum Creek Timber Co. sold it to the department for $200,000.
Right now, Hunter said, not much will change at the site, which allows fishing and a flat spot from which to launch a canoe or raft.
When Milltown Dam is removed, however, the Weigh Station will be close to the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers and may be improved to take more advantage of boating options in the area.
Angevine, which is upstream from Weigh Station, is about eight acres in size and didn't cost the state anything. The land is owned by Plum Creek, but a recreational easement first put on the land by the Anaconda Co. was transferred to the state.
The new Tower Rock park also didn't cost the state any money, Monger said. The land was first given to the state Department of Transportation as part of the interstate highway system, but it proved unnecessary for highway construction, Monger said. When the Highway Department earlier considered selling the land, residents rallied to keep it in public hands for public use.
Rep. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek, sponsored a bill in the 2003 Legislature prohibiting the state from sellingt the 150-acre parcel.
The FWP Commission approved the acquisition of Tower Rock in a 5-0 vote.
Monger said he doesn't expect the point to be changed much from its unimproved state, but eventually it likely will have a small parking lot, some interpretative signs and a short trail to the top of the rock, passing the point members of the Corps of Discovery climbed to.
The public will have an opportunity to decide exactly how the park will be developed - if at all.
The State Land Board must also approve the acquisition, but Monger said he doesn't expect any snags.