California Street link, new boat ramp to enhance Silver Park area

By Joe Nickell/Missoulian

Enhancement of Silver Park Area in Missoula

Pedestrians and bicyclists on Missoula’s west side will soon enjoy a much less circuitous connection to the Riverfront Trail, thanks to a short yet vital new bridge being constructed near the south end of the California Street footbridge in the Silver Park area.

Situated in the so-called Silver Park development, a 15-acre public park situated along the south side of the Clark Fork River between Ogren-Allegiance Park and the California Street footbridge, the short pedestrian bridge is the most visible of several enhancements aimed at transforming the former industrial site into a multi-use oasis for Missoula residents.

“We really feel that this park will be a great amenity for the neighborhood development there and the community as a whole,” said Chris Behan, assistant director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, which is in charge of overseeing the development. “This bridge will provide a really great route to get in there, and an important connection for people using the trail system.”

Funded with approximately half a million dollars from the Federal Community Transportation Enhancement Program, the bridge is the most visible feature being added in the third of four phases in development of the park, which sits in an area that once served as a storage and staging area for the Intermountain Lumber Mill in what’s known as the Old Sawmill District.

Other features being installed as part of the current phase of development include irrigation, electrical infrastructure and landscaping.

Construction of the bridge was supposed to begin last November, but weather conditions and other issues pushed back the start date until late February.

That was just the latest in a series of setbacks in the timeline for the development, noted Behan. So while he hopes the bridge will officially be opened for public use in approximately 60 days, he isn’t inclined to set an exact target.

“I’ve set up lots of goals for this project and we’ve hit none, so we’ll see,” he said.

Other public amenities at the site will be available for public use in the coming months. The second phase of development included a concrete boat ramp, which will serve as the only public launch in downtown Missoula. The ramp is accessed through a parking lot that’s already been constructed just west of Ogren-Allegiance Park.

Although the ramp was completed months ago, it will not be open for public use until after spring runoff, noted Behan.

“Before it’s officially open, we want to make sure it goes through one high-water cycle,” he said. “The rocks we put in there, the river will put them where it wants them to be. So we’ll be putting the finishing touches on that this summer and then opening it to the public.”

The fourth phase of development at the park will include other entrances to the area, and will be the most expensive step, with an estimated cost of $2 million. However, Behan said funds for that phase have not yet been identified; consequently, MRA has not set a timeline for its completion.

“We keep trying everything we can, and I’m hopeful it will come together within the next couple of years,” he said.

In the meantime, improved lighting and completion of the bridge should quickly make the park a well-used element of the public trail and park system that now extends from the California Street footbridge eastward all the way to the University of Montana campus.

“It’ll ultimately serve as a nice open space that I think everyone will enjoy,” said Behan.

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