Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The days of a car-lined highway and free-for-all parking at a popular recreation site near Missoula could be coming to an end with new agreements signed by the county.

Commissioners approved an agreement with the Montana Department of Transportation to build a shared-use path and bus stop at the Sha-Ron Fishing Access site near East Missoula.

The county in recent years has expressed concern with the location's safety given its lack of parking and summer congestion. The new agreements are intended to alleviate those concerns.

“The shared use path will essentially connect the proposed parking area that sits on MDT property with the Sha-Ron Fishing Access site,” said Shane Stack, the county's director of Public Works. “It allows the county to build that path, and the county will be responsible to maintain that path.”

As the city has made improvements to the Clark Fork River, it has become a popular summer recreation site. The Sha-Ron site is a favorite launch point, though it grows crowded as the summer heat sets in, leaving cars parked along the narrow highway shoulder.

Concerns over vehicle accidents and pedestrian safety have been an issue for years. In each of the past two seasons the county, along with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Montana Department of Transportation, have worked to overcome jurisdictional issues to find solutions.

The project will result in 68 additional parking spots and include a trail to the river, preventing the need to walk along the highway. The project will also include restrooms.

Reducing the number of drives to Sha-Ron also has emerged as a remedy, and the county reached an agreement with Mountain Line to build and maintain a bus stop at the site.

“It allows the county to build the bus stop,” Stack said. “They will provide $20,000 toward the construction of that bus stop as part of the project.”

Mountain Line will maintain the stop as part of the agreement, Stack said. The work could be completed by next summer.

“We're looking at advertising (bids) in November with construction beginning in early spring of 2023,” he said.