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floaters on the Smith River

A new rule that would require floaters on the Smith River to carry bear-proof coolers or carry portable electric fences will be considered by the parks board at its meeting in Helena on Wednesday.

HELENA - Rules to require Smith River floaters to purchase or rent bear-proof coolers or portable electric fences are being recommended to the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board at its Wednesday meeting in Helena.

Montana State Parks received 60 public comments on the subject. Sixteen supported the rule, 27 supported some form of food storage but provided different suggestions, and 17 opposed the rules.

A second alternative offered to the board, but not recommended, would phase in the installation of fixed electric fences in each boat camp to keep bears out.

The new rules are being proposed because of an increase in black bear raids on campers’ food along the river corridor. During the 2013-14 float seasons, bear conflicts resulted in eight black bears being killed by Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The Smith River is the only waterway in the state where a permit is required to float during the peak spring season. Last year, almost 3,900 people floated the river, and 6,600 people applied for permits through the Parks Division’s lottery system.

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Also on the board’s agenda will be some weighty financial decisions.

An estimate to finish construction of a problem-plagued road rebuild in Makoshika State Park has been tallied at almost $242,000. The initial cost for the entire project was $1.6 million. But difficulties encountered during the work have led to delays and an increased price tag.

The road work began in July with help from the Montana National Guard and Red Horse Squadron of the U.S. Air Force. If the additional funding is approved, the Parks Division hopes the remaining work can be completed in the spring.

The parks board is also being asked to approve 22 “major maintenance projects” across the state with an estimated price tag of $373,500. The most expensive project would be the $36,000 electrification of nine campsites at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. At Billings’ Pictograph Cave State Park, $28,000 is being recommended to stabilize and mitigate rock fall.

Also, the parks board is being asked to approve almost $132,000 in capital project overruns from this past summer’s construction season. The most expensive overrun is $40,000 for interior lighting at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park.

The parks board meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Fish, Wildlife and Parks headquarters in Helena. To view the agenda visit: http://stateparks.mt.gov/about-us/parksBoard.html.

The meeting is open to the public or can be viewed live through video conferencing at FWP’s regional offices.

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