Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Blankenship crowds a growing concern

| August 13, 2020 1:00 AM

Overnight camping along the Flathead River at the Blankenship access has reached a tipping point that Forest Service officials need to address with both short- and long-term solutions.

The Forest Service-owned access near Columbia Falls is no longer a quiet, locals-only secret. As documented in a recent Hungry Horse News article, people have been camping in droves along the stretch of river that is part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers system. A photo accompanying the article shows more than 35 RVs and vehicles parked right up to the edge of the water along the gravel bar.

While not illegal, the crowding has raised concerns about sanitation, vagrancy and general disregard for the spirit of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Proper disposal of human waste is one issue that the Forest Service should address promptly — this summer preferably. There is no public restroom on site, so campers without facilities in their RV have to walk to a county park across the road or cross the river to use a facility on the other side. While it would be nice if everyone respected the public access by “leaving no trace,” that’s simply not reality.

Measures need to be put in place to prevent unsightly and unsanitary conditions from eroding the “Wild and Scenic” experience of the Flathead River.

In the long-term, however, officials need to decide whether overnight camping is truly feasible, given the growing popularity of the site. And if camping is allowed to continue, how will the Forest Service manage these crowding-related concerns?

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act explicitly states that rivers included in the system “shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Let’s be proactive in making sure Blankenship remains pristine, now and into the future.