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A proposed state park and wildlife area in the Fish Creek drainage south of Alberton has increased in price and reduced its recreation footprint, according to a revised plan released late Tuesday.

State Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials will deliver the new proposal to their board of commissioners at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Helena. If approved there, the state Land Board would have final say on the $17.35 million purchase on March 18.

FWP wants to buy about 41,000 acres from the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust. TNC bought the land from Plum Creek Timber Co. as part of the Montana Legacy Project, which is transferring 310,000 acres of Montana timberland to public or conservation ownership.

The Fish Creek price grew from $14.35 million to $17.35 million since it was first publicly discussed in December. In a letter explaining the change, FWP fish and wildlife administrator Dave Risley said TNC renegotiated the deal after an appraisal put the fair market price at almost $22 million. That would mean TNC was essentially donating $7.5 million to the state.

"Given the current economic environment, it is difficult for TNC to make that significant a donation," Risley wrote. "The proposed purchase of Fish Creek, even at $17.35 million, is a 20 percent discount from the appraised fair market value of the property."

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FWP will draw the extra $3 million from federal Pittman-Robinson grants, along with state matching funds for habitat preservation. Part of that arrangement involves a boundary change where the proposed 7,650-acre state park shrinks by 1,426 acres. That space on the park's southwest corner would go to the wildlife management area of the purchase. The wildlife area would then be 34,757 acres.

"It gave us the opportunity to address the comments about reducing the size of the park," FWP parks administrator Chas Van Genderen said on Tuesday.

At recent public meetings in Superior, speakers were split on the impact of the state park idea. Many supported having a campground and recreation facility that would bring more tourist dollars to Mineral County businesses.

But others were concerned the state wouldn't have enough enforcement or maintenance resources to keep campers from annoying private landowners. They also questioned why the campground was several miles into the drainage when much of the public activity took place on the Clark Fork River's popular Alberton Gorge whitewater area.

Van Genderen said campground specifics had been put on hold.

"We'll be addressing all those issues if this is approved," he said. "We take our relations with adjacent landowners very seriously."

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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