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Clark Fork opens to floaters past Milltown Dam site

RIVERS -- Montana Lieutenant Governor John Walsh will join other state officials today to celebrate the opening of a stretch of the Clark Fork River near Milltown that will be open for water traffic for the first time in more than a century.

What: Opening of 2.5 mile stretch of Clark Fork River to water traffic

When: Today (May 1) @ 10:45 a.m.

Where: Turah Fishing Access Site, eight miles east of Missoula on I-90 to Exit 113 (Turah), south then east for 2 miles.

Federal and local officials gathered in September to mark the end of a $100 million cleanup and restoration at Milltown Superfund site on the Clark Fork River upstream from Missoula.

Removal of the century-old dam and toxic mining sediments in an unprecedented scope was funded by a settlement with Atlantic Richfield Co.

Removing the dam eventually will be a boon to Clark Fork River native fisheries, state biologists say, but Missoula fly-fishing guides say aquatic insect hatches down from the dam site continue to be depressed.

The first advisory group meetings paving the way for the project were held in 1989 after arsenic was found in Milltown’s drinking water.

The Superfund work began in 2006 when crews began rerouting the river to drain the reservoir and expose the sediment contaminated by toxic waste flowing down the Clark Fork River from Butte-area mines.

In 2007, trains began hauling tons of sediment to holding ponds at Opportunity.

Milltown Dam was breached in 2008 and completely removed the following year. Since then, bulldozers scraped away the waste, dug new river channels and re-contoured the flood plain.

A state park is being developed at the site.

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Rich Landers writes and photographs stories and columns for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including Outdoors feature sections on Sunday and Thursday.