Missoula County considers outfitter’s request to use ‘sinker’ logs in new building

Missoula County had some “sinker logs” milled into “cants” – mostly debarked and squared off. Many have been used in county park projects, but others are stored at the Lalonde Ranch. (Sustainable Lumber Co.)

It’s been more than 100 years since log drivers last used the Blackfoot River to float pine, spruce and larch down to the Bonner mill, east of Missoula. But some of those logs are still waiting to be used.

That use was a topic of discussion during a Tuesday morning meeting of the Missoula County commissioners, in response to a request by Blackfoot River Outfitters to acquire some of the logs for use in construction of its new building on Russell Street.

Fishing guide John Herzer, owner of the outfitting company, would like to use the logs to incorporate some of the Blackfoot River’s history into his business. 

“It’s a cool idea,” said Dori Brownlow, development director for Missoula County. “But because they’re public property, it needs to go through a public process.”

The logs are what’s known as “sinkers,” wood that dropped to the bottom of the river decades ago during log drives. When the Bonner Dam was removed in 2006, and again when the Milltown Dam was removed in 2008, river flows changed, causing thousands of sinker logs to resurface.

Because the logs can present a hazard to recreationists and damage bridge abutments, the state and county have removed close to 20,000 sinkers from the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers in the years since the dams came down.

Although the logs hold some value as timber, they also contain a lot of accumulated sand and gravel that can dull and damage saw blades. However, many were sold to the Polson Lumber mill where they were converted to siding, flooring, furniture and other wood products. Some were used by state agencies for streambank stabilization projects. Some were acquired by Missoula County. 

The county had them milled into “cants” – mostly debarked and squared off. Many have been used in county park projects, but many remain stored at the county’s Lalonde Ranch, west of Missoula off Airway Boulevard. 

“They’re not being used,” Brownlow said. “But there are some feral cats living among them.” 

Commissioner Josh Slotnick said he’d prefer to reach out to various county departments and see if they have uses for the wood before making a decision. 

“Since they’re in public ownership, we should see if they can be used to benefit the public at large,” he said. 

Commission Chairman Dave Strohmaier agreed. 

“Let’s eliminate all possibilities of Missoula County having possible uses for these logs before turning them over for private use,” he said.