City could push for N. Fork paving

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A Flathead County snowplow and grader makes its way down the North Fork Road yesterday.

Now that the region has a Secretary of Interior in Ryan Zinke with Montana roots, it’s a good time to ask to have the North Fork Road paved to the Camas Road, a Columbia Falls city councilman suggested last week.

Councilman Mike Shepard — and all of city council for that matter — would like to see the nine miles or so of road that is now dirt get paved. They city could then market it as an alternative route to Glacier Park as it would increase traffic down Nucleus Avenue.

The idea of paving that section of road is nothing new — it’s been debated for more than 30 years.

But Shepard said at last week’s city council meeting that the opportunity to get it done is ripe, with the talk of a big infrastructure bill in Congress. Shepard would like to see the city craft a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other elected officials to get the ball rolling. Mayor Don Barnhart agreed, suggesting they “get things riled up again.”

Zinke is seen as a sympathetic ear to the city’s concerns.

The Park Service, however has been resistant to the idea in the past and environmental groups have also opposed the measure, noting a paved road would result in increased traffic speeds and more wildlife road kills, not to mention more crowds. More than a few folks have already raised concerns that the North Fork of the Flathead River that is getting overcrowded in the summer months.

The road is a state highway, but the county maintains it.

The 45-mile gravel road currently costs between $150,000 to $250,000 to maintain annually, the county estimated last year. The county does get federal dollars for its roads, however, through the Secure Rural Schools Act.

The state Department of Transportation did a corridor study in 2010 and found it would cost about $15 million to pave the road to the Camas Creek to a full 36-foot width.

“We might as well push,” Shepard said. “We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t ask.”

The council took no formal action on a letter, however.

In other city news:

• Mayor Don Barnhart suggested the city approach the county about the possibility of extended hours at the green box site on the Truck Route. Barnhart said he’d like to see hours at the site from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is not the first time the city has asked for extended hours. A few years back, the county changed the hours and made it from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the public wasn’t fond of that. The current hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, excluding major holidays. After the meeting, Barnhart said he wasn’t seeking home pickup for garbage. Home pickup is available in the city, but by private contractor only.

• The city will join with School District 6 to run its own youth basketball and volleyball programs for elementary school students. The city had partnered with Flathead County Parks and Recreation for years, but the county wanted $18,000 a year from the city. Rather than spend that much, the school and the city decided to partner, with the city contributing $6,000 to the program. The program is credited for the success that’s been seen in prep sports here, as most students get their start in elementary school.

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