Protecting the resource: Clark Fork River

2017 Clark Fork river protection plan

Locals collaborate to protect Clark Fork River in Missoula

clark fork river coalition missoula

The Clark Fork River is a treasured resource that enhances our quality of life in Missoula. Whether we run or walk beside it, spend time with our families and pets in the parks along it, fly fish, kayak, raft or surf Brennan’s wave, we all enjoy having the Clark Fork River running through the heart of Missoula. However, as our love of being near and accessing the Clark Fork has increased, so too has our impact on its health and the infrastructure along the corridor.

In the fall of 2014, Missoula City Parks and Recreation brought conservation leaders from the community together to discuss a very serious threat to the infrastructure of the river trail, and to the Clark Fork River. In many areas, severe erosion cuts away at the corridor, undercutting near the river trail and at key bridges. As more people access the river, they have created pathways from the river up to the trail, trampling vegetation that helps keep the bank intact.

“The river trail has become a well loved asset to Missoula and the Clark Fork River corridor, enabling easier river access and enjoyment, but maintaining access that doesn’t harm river health requires the help and care of all Missoulians.”  – Morgan Valliant, Missoula Parks and Recreation.

Facilitated discussions since that time, including another large roundtable in June of 2016, identified the need for more widespread education of these threats and ways people can take action to be better stewards of the Clark Fork River. Another necessity is increased funding to implement on the ground restoration projects that will protect the river and river trail.
In an attempt to address one of these identified needs, a collaboration formed between American Rivers, Clark Fork Coalition, Missoula City Parks and Recreation, and Missoula Valley Water Quality District to produce and install educational signs along the river trail in downtown Missoula. “It’s become more and more apparent over the years that the Clark Fork is a huge source of enjoyment and pride for Missoulians. It’s wild, it’s wonderful, and it’s accessible to all. But what may be less apparent is the fact that everyone has a role to play in keeping it that way. A healthy Clark Fork is not a given. It takes intention and a community pitching in to care for the river for the long haul.” – Karen Knudsen, Clark Fork Coalition. These signs serve to increase awareness of stewardship practices to river trail and river users. The signs direct people to a collaboration website,, which gives more information on specific threats to the Clark Fork River and ways to be more “river smart.” A friendly and engaging Otter encourages river trail users to “do what you otter, and take the right path to water”, emphasizing the importance of utilizing existing trails and that creating new trails increases erosion.
“Recreation will always been an important way to connect with our rivers. When people experience the river, they tend to care about it more. Through these signs we hope people will embrace responsible river recreation and access, so we can continue to enjoy it far into the future.” – Kascie Herron, American Rivers
Signs will be installed along the river trail in downtown Missoula, at high use access points with chronic damage and trash problems between east Missoula and the Russell St. bridge.
“Our community is so fortunate to have the Clark Fork River running through it.  It has supported Missoula; providing recreational and economic opportunities, supporting wildlife and recharging our aquifer. This project highlights simple ways that we can take care of this river that bring so much to our community.” – Travis Ross, Missoula Valley Water Quality District
The sign project was made possible through grant funding from the LOR Foundation.
Sign installation will occur between 7:30am-3pm on Wednesday July 12 and Thursday July 13. Contact Morgan Valliant (406-552-6263) with Missoula Parks & Rec if you would like to see the installation in progress.
Visit for more details.

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