Reviving the Clark Fork River: RESPEC’s Sustainable Approach to River Access and Restoration

2021 - 2022
Missoula, Montana
City of Missoula (MT) Parks and Recreation Department

In Missoula, Montana, RESPEC partnered with Field Studio Landscape Architects to address the streambank erosion, loss of riparian vegetation, and increase in recreational pressure on the Clark Fork River. The project involved developing site-specific restoration treatments at 34 identified river-access sites, with implementation planned in phases based on river-use priorities, funding availability, and the timing of construction activities for two bridges within the project reach. 

RESPEC developed sustainable, designated river-access points at several priority sites, to reduce streambank erosion and enhance the surrounding riparian vegetation. These points include rock terraces, rock stair access, and poured concrete stairs under the bridges. The management practice focused on river use at designated locations, which would improve water quality and sustain the health of the Clark Fork River by reducing sediment inputs from streambank erosion. These site developments also improved public safety by removing existing hazards within the streambank and providing identified and easily accessible river-access points. 

In addition to these designated river-access points, we also identified unsustainable river-access points that require restoration treatments, such as streambank bioengineering, willow staking, riparian plantings, and fencing. We incorporated an education and outreach campaign to educate river users about the ecological values of intact, native riparian corridors. 

Throughout the project, RESPEC also assisted the City of Missoula’s staff and stakeholders in preparing a Renewable Resource Grant and Loan Program application for submittal to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. 

RESPEC’s approach improved water quality, sustained river health, enhanced public safety, and increased ecological awareness among river users. With these solutions in place, we hope to preserve and protect the natural beauty of the Clark Fork River while providing safe and sustainable access for recreational use.