Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Truck gets stuck in river at controversial Blankenship camp

Hungry Horse News | May 26, 2022 11:52 AM

Just days after a lawsuit was filed against the Forest Service over the allegedly out-of-control camp at the Blankenship Bridge, yet another vehicle, this time a pickup, got stuck in the adjacent stretch of the Flathead River.

In June 2021, an old school bus trying to access the camp became stuck. Last weekend, a pickup truck got bogged down. But, according to witnesses, the man may have been messing around when his Ford 350 became marooned in the muck.

The pickup, according to cell phone photos provided to the Hungry Horse News following the May 21 incident, had local plates. It wasn’t completely in the water — just the front end was stuck.

On May 16, a group of concerned Blankenship-area residents called Friends of the Flathead River filed suit in federal court against the Forest Service. Their lawsuit seeks to close the area managed by the Forest Service on the east side of the river to overnight camping.

They claim the agency is violating the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, The Forest Service Organic Act and the Administrative Procedures Act for allowing people to camp unfettered on the gravel bar. The county and the state control access at other points at the popular bridge, but they only allow day use of the lands they own or manage.

The gravel bar used to be a place where the occasional local set up camp for the night at the free access site on Forest Service land.

But during the pandemic, when many formal campgrounds were closed, the site became popular with tourists and Montanans alike, with 50 to 70 campers a night during the summer months. The site has no formal bathroom, though the Forest Service has put in portable toilets in the past.

This time of year just a handful of folks typically camp there.

The suit seeks, among other things, a temporary restraining order closing the site to overnight camping “pending release and implementation of the final Comprehensive River Management Plan for the Flathead River.”

That plan has been in the works for years and a draft is expected to be released this summer.

Forest Service officials have previously said the draft calls for the area to become day use only under the plan. But the agency decided to keep it open to camping this summer.

It isn’t clear whether the individual who got his truck stuck was cited.

Forest Service spokeswoman Tami McKenzie said the matter was being jointly investigated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game wardens, the Montana Highway Patrol and the Forest Service.

Typically, the Forest Service does not release the names and charges against people who have been cited until a conviction, she noted.

She said the Forest Service had no plans to change the management at Blankenship for this summer.

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