After years of planning and hard work, the only sand beach on the Clark Fork River in Missoula is finally safely accessible to the public.

Chris Behan with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency accompanied several members of the press on a walking tour of the area just off West Broadway.

“We’re emphasizing the restoration of riparian habitat in that really key urban area,” said Behan. “These improvements will be going on for many years, but the Parks Department through the Conservation and Open Space Division have done an amazing job down there. They’re doing a lot of planting and planning for an actual riparian habitat down there.”

Behan explains why that particular area is so vital.

“This area right along downtown is one of the primary recharge areas for our aquifer,” he said. “Water goes to the bottom and then into the aquifer from there more than it does in other areas around town. It’s important to establish natural filters for that water and to promote native animal species and birds, as well.”

Behan addressed the fact that the area for years had been a dwelling place for transients and drug users.

“The police chief said to the MRA board several years ago when advocating for this project said there are problems down there that we cannot police our way out of,” he said. “We need to change the culture and change the environment. We’re adding access for the public to get down there and use the space.”

Behan said the trail to the river has become one of his favorites in Missoula.

“You know when I go down there like I did this morning and take a walk over towards the river I can stand on one of the only sand beaches in Missoula. The sounds of West Broadway and the rest of the town really go away,” he said. “It’s quiet and you can hear birds. It’s really an amazing place that’s only feet away from West Broadway. It should be in the conservation district like the North Hills because it’s a place that in itself is the entertainment, rather than in a park.”

Behan said law enforcement is playing a greater role in keeping the area safe, but what will really make the difference is public participation.

“The other big part is getting the public down there, because places that are well used are no longer comfortable for other kinds of activities,” he said. “Between the two, I know we’ll make some headway.”

The official ribbon cutting ceremony was scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on Friday.