(photo credit: Flathead County Search and Rescue)

COLUMBIA FALLS – Forest Service planners say a new comprehensive management plan for the three forks of the Flathead River will look at the increasing recreational use on the river system.

But they say there’s also other issues that are being reviewed in an overall package for the first time ever.

This week, the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park kicked off what’s expected to be a two year process to develop a Comprehensive River Management Plan for all of the branches of the Flathead River.

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That includes the remote North Fork, the wild reaches of the Middle Fork, and the South Fork, which is used for a combination of water storage and power generation, in addition to draining the west side of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Interest in developing the plan is driven in part by the growing recreational use on the river system. But it’s also catching up on something that was never completed when the Flathead was declared a Wild and Scenic River 40 years ago this year.

“We have never completed a real comprehensive river management plan,” said Gary Danczyk with the Flathead National Forest. “And the goal now is to look at all of our existing outstanding remarkable values, including recreation, and maybe headlined by recreation. But certainly that’s not our only one. Our water quality, our fisheries, the scenic and recreational values, heritage values, are all part of this river system.”

This week’s presentation in Columbia Falls was just the first in what is expected to be a series of meetings before the Flathead River Plan is complete in 2020.