Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With the first phase of renovations to Caras Park now finished, the city will turn its focus this summer to improving access to the Clark Fork River and Brennan's Wave in downtown Missoula.

The Missoula Redevelopment Agency on Thursday committed up to $100,000 in matching funds toward the project, which will include ADA access to the water, along with stone steps, a viewing platform and around 400 feet of riverbank restoration.

“Of all the areas we've been looking at doing river restoration and access improvement projects, Caras Park has come to the very top of the list every time we've polled the project,” said Nathan McCleod with Missoula Parks and Recreation. “In the Clark Fork River Restoration and Access Plan, it was one of the very top improvements we were proposing.”

Improvements to the section of river overlooking Brennan's Wave was included in the river restoration and access plan, the North Riverside Parks and Trails Master Plan, and the new Downtown Master Plan.

The current facility includes a wooden observation deck and odd-shaped steps to the river, though some say the steps are difficult to navigate. Handicap accessibility to the river is largely limited, though the proposed improvements would fix that while improving safety.

“Our next step is to get to 100% design and win final permitting,” said McCleod. “We can't just start this project whenever we want. We have to wait for the river level to drop. It's a summer and fall project, so our goal is to start in the summer of 2024.”

The city recently received a $1.2 million federal grant for the project, though it must provide more than $400,000 in matching funds. The $100,000 commitment from MRA helps reach that goal, along with $150,000 from the Downtown Missoula Partnership and funding from the 2018 Open Space Bond.

City advocates suggested the improvements will be good for businesses operating downtown.

A rendering of another possible river access point.
A rendering of another possible river access point.

“River recreation has exploded in this town,” said McCleod. “There's a pretty big economic benefit in having a clean river where people are recreating. A lot of people will float from East Missoula to downtown Missoula. They take out downtown and end up going to businesses for lunch or dinner.”

Some members of MRA would like to see needed improvements to Brennan's Wave take place at the same time the access project begins to shorten the period of time in which the feature will be impacted by construction.

Brennan's Wave is nearly 20 years old and needs some underwater repairs, according to MRA Director Ellen Buchanan.

“There are some repairs that need to be done to it, we think, and it's my understanding that same group (that raised money for it) is still committed to raising the money to make any improvements,” Buchanan said. “There has been some scouring that's undermined it, as I understand.”