Monday, February 06, 2023

Time for action at Blankenship

by Daily Inter Lake
| May 29, 2022 12:00 AM

Last year it was an old school bus that got swamped at the Blankenship Bridge river access near West Glacier. This year it’s a pickup truck, stuck and buried in water and gravel up to its front bumper on May 21.

One can only guess what’s next — and what it will take before the Forest Service takes an active interest in the ongoing calamity happening along the shores of the treasured wild and scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

On any given summer day, the Blankenship area is packed with campers, often running more than 50 broad right along the river’s edge. The free access point has no formal bathroom, though the Forest Service has put in portable toilets in the past.

Human waste is among the serious concerns a neighborhood group highlighted in a petition submitted to the Forest Service last year to end overnight camping at Blankenship. They also noted the illegal campfires and fireworks, and the difficulty of firefighters being able to respond.

Now, another group of residents calling itself Friends of the Flathead River has taken it a step further, suing the Forest Service earlier this month for continuing to allow people to camp unfettered at the site.

In their suit, the plaintiffs claim to have witnessed people dumping RV tanks into the river as well as washing dishes, defecating and throwing trash into the river. Unacceptable behavior on all fronts.

Allowing the crowds to run roughshod over the once-quiet river bench is a violation of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the suit argues. They are seeking to shut down camping there “pending release and implementation of the final Comprehensive River Management Plan for the Flathead River.”

For its part, the Forest Service has said it’s waiting for the draft plan before making any management changes. The document’s release has seen years of delays, but is expected to finally be released this summer.

Until then, it is status quo, they said earlier this year.

Forest officials can no longer be satisfied with burying their heads in the gravel bar.

We’ve seen enough to determine that unregulated overnight camping at Blankenship is irresponsible management. Those days are long gone — Montana has been discovered and not everyone coming here these days holds the same values about respecting our natural resources.

Officials need to rein in the site as day-use only, preferably this summer, while also adding proper restroom facilities.

It’s also imperative that land managers and elected officials learn from Blankenship. The crush of people looking to get outside and enjoy Montana’s rivers, lakes and mountains is only growing.

We don’t blame people for wanting to pitch a tent along the Flathead’s pristine waters — it’s a prime spot among the dwindling number of campsites readily available in Northwest Montana.

So let’s work to establish more public access points and overnight campgrounds to better accommodate the demand.

Inaction on creating new public access will only push Blankenship’s problems downstream.

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