MISSOULA – You might meet some new friends if you’re floating on an area river this weekend — and they could be in uniform.
But Missoula County leaders say a new effort to encourage floaters to follow the rules is as much about education, as it is enforcement.
Missoula’s growth is building conflict between recreational users, and property owners along the rivers.
Now, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, in cooperation with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is launching a new effort to try and get in front of the problems.
With the approval of the Missoula County commissioners, three new deputies will split their year between the rivers in the summer, and school resource officers in the winter.
That means a focus on both enforcing rules for parking and public drinking, but also working to educate river uses on the “dos” and “don’ts” by explanation.
“But if you keep going a little ways there’s a parking area down here where you can park, and there’s a bathroom and there’s services, which maybe aren’t where people are parking,” Missoula County Sheriff said on a recent tour.
“It’s no great surprise. We didn’t wake up this morning and realize we have recreational needs that must be addressed in our river corridor,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said.
“We’ve known this for a while. And to the extent that our budget here in Missoula County really needs to reflect and emulate the values of this county,” he added.
“This isn’t all about ticketing people or throwing bad guys in jail. This is about directing the community to where we want recreation, in the way that we want,” Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said.
“And preserving the integrity of these neighborhoods. And I think we can do it all. We have enough sites. We have people. It should work,” he added.
While some areas like the busy Maclay Bridge corridor, have increased control devices like markers that block parking along the shoulder, other access points will simply have an increased emphasis on the signs and rules that already exist.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News