MISSOULA - For the first time in centuries, a section of the Clark Fork River is opening for public recreation Wednesday morning. Call it one of the final chapters in the Milltown Restoration Project.
For about 100 years, Montanans didn't have access to a two-and-a-half mile stretch of the Clark Fork River between Turah and the mouth of a Blackfoot River, because of the Milltown Dam. Now, That's about to change.
"It feels surreal," said Pat Saffel, Fisheries Manager at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "It's exciting that this is happening."
With the area opening, people will have about a nine-mile stretch of river to float.
Saffel said, "It's not often you get a chance at a new river to go discover."
Saffel helped plan the removal of the Milltown Dam, and a $115 million renovation, which followed the removal. Over the last five years, that project removed 300-thousand tons of toxic sediment from the Milltown Dam reservoir and rebuilt the floodplain.
"Here we are about 10 years later. There's no dam, and the toxic sediments are gone, and we have a river people can float through for the first time in about 100 years," Saffel said.
Terri Raugland owns Blackfoot Outfitters. She said she already has a feeling the area will be a hot spot for fishing.
"I think we'll find out Wednesday," Raugland said. "There were already people in Tuesday getting ready to put their boats in Wednesday, so I got to believe there will be some good fishing."
Raugland said Missoula is already a prime spot for her fly fishing business with more than 400 river miles to fish within an hours drive. She said this new stretch of river could only help the fly fishing business in the area.
"This is going to be nice section, because it's so close to town very accessible," Raugland said. "We're excited to see what it has in there, since no one's been there in five years."
Saffel said the area will be open for all uses like boating, fly fishing and tubing. It officially opens Wednesday morning."
An event will be held to celebrate the opening of the river Wednesday morning in Turah. FWP officials say everyone is invited to the event.