Two Great Falls projects picked for funding from NorthWestern Energy, River Fund

NorthWestern Energy and the Missouri-Madison River Fund have awarded grants for nine public recreation improvement projects.

NorthWestern Energy’s $196,500 in funding and $511,538 from the Missouri-Madison River Fund will be combined with $361,928 from agency and project partners to complete nine projects totaling more than $1 million in 2023.

Awarded projects include two in Great Falls:

  • the existing drinking water fountain along the River’s Edge Trail near the south end of Black Eagle Dam will be upgraded by the City of Great Falls Park and Recreation Department to include a water bottle filling station and a dog water bowl; and
  • 20,000 River’s Edge Trail maps will be printed for free distribution to the public with support from the River Fund, NorthWestern Energy and other project partners.

The water fountain project is an estimated $6,600 project with $4,000 approved from the River Fund and $1,050 in matching funds from NWE.

The water fountain project was identified in conjunction with the 2022 visitor use study conducted on the River’s Edge Trail.

River’s Edge Trail gets new bike repair stations [2022]

“Drinking fountains are among the most frequently requested items from trail users. The proposed project was discussed internally within the Great Falls Park and Recreation Department staff as well as Trails Working Group and was agreed as a worthwhile project to seek funding. According to the Missouri-Madison 2021 Recreation Visitor Use Counts, the River’s Edge Trail was the fifth most used facility corridor wide with 26,016 group user visits,” according to the application.

NorthWestern will supplement these funds by contributing an additional $539,023 to state, federal, and local agencies for operation and maintenance work at existing recreation sites in 2023. These efforts were included in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project 2188 hydroelectric license in the 1990s to ensure that public recreation sites, facilities, and opportunities remain available long into the future, according to a NWE release.

Portion of River’s Edge Trail to close for bank stabilization project [2022]

The projects also include an overflow parking area on leased Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad property at the Craig fishing access site on the Missouri River

“Lack of parking for anglers and recreationists utilizing the access site in Craig has been an ongoing issue for many years,” Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen said in a release. “Lewis and Clark County is proud to be part of a creative solution and to partner with Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and BNSF on this important project to reduce parking congestion within the town area.”

Other 2023 projects are:

  • On Ennis Lake’s west shore, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will expand camping opportunities and improve carry-in watercraft access at Meadow Lake Fishing Access Site.
  • At Trapper Springs along the Lower Madison River the Bureau of Land Management will drill a new well to continue to provide drinking water to site visitors and area recreationists.
  • At Devil’s Elbow Campground and Clark’s Bay day-use site on Hauser Lake the Bureau of Land Management will drill new wells to continue to provide drinking water to site visitors and area recreationists.
  • Solar arrays will be installed by the Bureau of Land Management at three developed campgrounds on Hauser Lake and Holter Lake to power administration buildings at the sites.
  • Deteriorated sections of the popular Beaver Creek Trail between Hauser Dam and Beaver Creek Access Site will be restored and upgraded by the US Forest Service, with cooperation from the Montana Conservation Corps.
  • Paved surfaces of ADA-accessible pathways within Riverside Campround at the very upper end of Hauser Lake will be upgraded by the Bureau of Reclamation.

In addition, dock and vault toilet improvement projects at Hebgen Lake, delayed in 2022 because of resource limits that resulted from historic flooding in Montana, will be completed.

On the Lower Madison at Warms Spring Access, a boat ramp replacement will be completed this summer and kiosk upgrades at Forest Service sites in the Gates of the Mountains corridor will also be finished this year.

Projects funded in 2023 raise the total to 160 projects, with $6 million in funding by the River Fund Trust and $1.6 million in matching funds from NorthWestern Energy over the past 17 years.

River Fund grants and NorthWestern Energy matching funds have helped leverage public agency and partner funding to provide more than $12 million in public recreation improvements in the Missouri-Madison corridor, according to NWE.

The Missouri-Madison River Fund trust for public recreation, currently valued at $7 million, was created through the collaborative efforts of NWE; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Bureau of Land Management; Madison, Gallatin, Broadwater, Lewis and Clark, Cascade and Chouteau counties; and numerous other public and private partners.

Created as a public-private partnership to meet public recreation needs along the Madison and Missouri rivers, the River Fund supports ongoing efforts to protect and enhance recreation from Hebgen Reservoir downstream to Fort Benton, excluding the Toston and Canyon Ferry hydroelectric plants and the river segment between them. River Fund awards for qualifying projects will continue on an annual basis, with grants awarded each December.