By Michael Howell
A couple of Ravalli County commissioners put on their wading outfits and walked down Mitchell Slough from Victor Crossing Road to Bell Crossing Road as part of the process in meeting a Portage Route request made by Andy Roubik last November. The river channel was declared to be a stream and accessible by the public under the state’s Stream Access law by the Montana Supreme Court in 2008. In 2009, three Portage Routes, that is official access routes to the water, were established by the commissioners at Tucker Headgate, Victor Crossing and Bell Crossing bridges. In November 2012, Roubik petitioned the commissioners to extend this process to all the fences that represent serious obstructions from Victor Crossing north to Stevensville.
Accompanied by Roubik and several officials from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the commissioners set out last Monday, March 4, to identify the fences that actually constitute a serious impediment to boaters and anglers, identify the landowners involved and make an initial assessment of what remedial measures might work in each case to allow safe passage.
Some landowners and land managers met the official entourage on its walk and actually worked out satisfactory agreements to modifications of their fencing on the spot. Although under state law the landowner could be required to pay for the modifications, in this case FWP has volunteered to foot the entire bill for design and installation of the modifications.
The commissioners are planning to examine the fences from Bell Crossing to the point where the slough rejoins the main river channel near Stevensville in the near future.