Without a doubt, the Flathead County Road Department is the most popular government agency in the North Fork. The North Fork Road has been greatly improved and maintained for the last 20 years. Part of the money for Flathead County was and is called PILT money or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, which was established when money from the sale of federal timber was drastically reduced. PILT money still provides significant dollars to the county road budget.
Of even more importance to the North Fork Road has been Resource Advisory Committee dollars, which the county has used to match the county dollars used to put crushed rock on the lower North Fork and to provide dust abatement on the road up to Polebridge. RAC grants were provided by the Feds as part of the Secure Schools Bill. The funds have been slowly dwindling and were not renewed at all this year. As a result, there will be no North Fork dust abatement this year, unless private landowners pitch in and join the county in their 50-50 share program. The landowners pay half of the dust abatement cost and the county pays the other half, plus preps the road by grading it. Some landowners have participated in this for several years and it is hoped this program will continue to grow.
To this effect, the Board of the NFLA has voted to do one half mile (the minimum allowed) from Whale Creek south past Sondreson Hall. The cost per one-half mile is about $1,200 and donations will be sought to minimize the drain on NFLA reserves. The U.S.F.S. could help also by using rental funds to minimize dust by the river, Ford and Wurtz rentals, plus more private landowners.
Other road improvements will be done on the north end with the FLAP grant. Apparently, it will be several million dollars with the priority rebuilding of the road from Trail Creek Road north to the border, with some work on the road between the Merc and the Polebridge Ranger Station. Hopefully, there will also be some repair to slumps at Harts and Wurtz Hill. None of this will happen before 2020, so we will have to wait and see.
Glacier Park was, I felt, also more direct in their information than in recent years. An effort will be made this year to expand parking at Kintla Lake and Bowman Lake and improve some access to the river by day-users.
In the past, GNP has just said they are not considering permanent closure of the inside road. After several years of this, some of us cynics just felt they were sidestepping the issue with inaction and really intended to just abandon it. This year was different. Whereas in the past it was considered a capital investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars, they are now proposing a more temporary fix – like 10 years or so. Again, we will see.
The park is also pushing for cell service in the North Fork. Whether this is because of Senator Tester’s efforts or Tester’s efforts are the result of park efforts doesn’t matter. The fact is that with 100,000 folks entering the park at Polebridge, increased recreation on Forest Service land and the river, there is an increased need to address potential emergencies.
Again, we shall see.
Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.