Additional public lake access needed

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Local infrastructure is bearing the weight of Northwest Montana’s booming tourism industry and a rapidly growing population.

In recent years, simply finding a parking space at Logan Pass has become an intense race up Glacier’s alpine highway. Get there later than 8 a.m., and you’ll likely be left circling the lot like a vulture over fresh meat.

The parking situation in downtowns across the valley is getting more congested too, as more and more people discover the area.

Another area feeling the strain are the public access points along the north shore of Flathead Lake. Daily Inter Lake reporter Mackenzie Reiss detailed in Thursday’s edition how the influx of visitors and locals alike is taxing the Somers Fishing Access on U.S. 93.

On any given summer weekend, a long stream of trucks with boat trailers will line up, waiting to jockey for position at the boat launch and one of the coveted 28 parking spots. It can be a long wait and a potentially dangerous situation for pedestrians along the busy stretch of highway.

In fact, data shows that in 2018 the site saw a whopping 48,533 vehicles.

“There’s 28 parking spots and 350 cars per day. You just can’t fit everybody,” Region 1 Fishing Access Site Manager Tony Powell told the Inter Lake.

While the Somers launch leads the way, the other access points on the North Shore are just as busy. Sportsman’s Bridge saw the second-highest number of users in 2018 with 35,429 cars counted and Woods Bay came in third with 17,617.

These already busy sites are only going to get busier. It’s past time to take a serious look at acquiring additional public access points on the north shore of Flathead Lake to relieve some of the congestion.

The problem is, most of the shoreline is privately owned, and that land is expensive, with a capital E. According to Powell, FWP would blow its entire fishing access site acquisition budget — which comes mostly from the sale of fishing licenses — for a single access point on the lake.

Ultimately, it will require the Flathead delegation of state lawmakers to step up and make this happen financially by lobbying for additional FWP funding. FWP could save up and earmark those dollars to use when the right piece of property becomes available for the right price.

If you believe public access on Flathead Lake is important — and we think many of you do — let your local representatives know.

In the meantime, drivers passing through the tight highway corridor at Somers should slow down, and boaters should follow best practices at the ramp. FWP advises people to prepare their boat before launching, park in the right place, and once on the water, move away from the ramp.

A little patience and courtesy can go a long way, too.

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