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Marias River

The Marias River south of Shelby is a less-visited stretch of water in Montana.

The Montana State Parks Foundation is publishing a weekly showcase of Montana State Parks' 55 properties. 

This week's featured state park is Marias River State Park and Wildlife Management Area. To get to there from Interstate 15, take exit 358 and head east on Marias Valley Road North for 3.5 miles. Then turn west on Hjartarson Road and travel for 10.2 miles, then turn south for 2.5 miles.

This 5,845-acre property — a combination of state park, and wildlife management area — was established on May 1, 2009. The site includes an undeveloped 14-mile stretch of the Marias River, as well as sagebrush, grassland, and short grass prairie habitats in the uplands.

The area is open to nonmotorized access only. Respect private property, do not trespass. Rules prevent discharge of weapons except for lawful hunting during established hunting seasons. 

The Marias River flows through the wildlife management area for 13 miles.

When FWP bought the land, officials believed an existing road on the east side of the WMA would provide access to the river and interior of the state park. However, an adjacent landowner disputed FWP plans and stated that the road was not public.

The landowner and FWP went through a formal mediation process, and FWP proposed transferring approximately 483 acres of the WMA to the landowner in exchange for public recreational access on Lincoln Road. In November 2015 the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted down the road proposal, leaving the park and WMA without vehicle access to the river.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks purchased the 5,485-acre WMA in 2008. A 1,878-acre state park sits next to it.

The land was previously owned by Charlie Lincoln and was known as the Lincoln Ranch. When Lincoln died he left his ranch to the Catholic Diocese of Montana with instructions to give FWP the first right of refusal if the diocese decided to sell the land.

FWP paid $2 million for the state park portion of the land, funded through a one-time appropriation from the 2007 Legislature, and $5.6 million for the WMA portion thanks to Habitat Montana funding.

The Marias River is void of any technical whitewater. It's an easy float, even for someone with minimal experience.

The Montana State Parks Foundation helps fund work at parks, for more information log on to www.montanastateparksfoundation.org.

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