Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With a new parking lot set to open later this month, Missoula County has adopted parking restrictions for a portion of Highway 200 near the Sha Ron river access site.

The action ends several years of work to address public safety within the busy river corridor.

“The Montana Department of Transportation is in full support of a restriction in this location and they're willing and ready to install no parking signs,” said Shane Stack, the county's Public Works director. “The equivalent parking we're putting out there today is all the parking that would be able to occur on Highway 200.”

Citing safety concerns and growing demand, county officials joined Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the state transportation department two years ago in seeking solutions to the area's lack of parking.

The location is a popular put-in among river users who float, tube and paddle the Clark Fork River on hot summer days. The location also includes two sandy beaches.

But despite its heavy use, the location has always had limited parking, forcing users to park along the highway shoulder. Concerns over vehicle accidents and pedestrian safety prompted the creation of the new 68-lot parking lot, which sits just north of Sha Ron off Highway 200.

“It's been a long time coming,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “We've heard for years if not decades about safety in parking along this section of Highway 200. It's been a collaborative effort among multiple government agencies.”

The county in past years also has adopted no-parking restrictions at other sections of river, including Juniper Drive and Tamarack Road, and the one-lane North Avenue bridge on the Bitterroot River.

The new Sha Ron parking lot is set to open next week.