The federal agency that administers Fresno Dam and Fresno Reservoir has decided to increase recreation access at the spillway below the dam, the agency said in a press release Tuesday.
Mike LaFrentz, Bureau of Reclamation Marias-Milk Rivers Division Manager, said that the bureau has an obligation to provide safety at and security for its facilities, but, “after listening to comments from the public and evaluating the situation, Reclamation has determined that our safety and security needs can be met while accommodating additional public access. ”
The release said a fence will be constructed on the south side of the river, likely to be completed later this winter.
Access to the spillway, an extremely popular fishing site since the dam was completed in the 1930s, was restricted following the terrorist attacks in the United States Sept. 11, 2001.
The dam was built to provide flood control and water storage for irrigation but has been a popular site for recreation through the decades.
Reclamation held a public meeting in Havre July 17 to hear comments on increasing access. Dozens of people advocated restoring access, with only one person supporting keeping access restricted.
Kent Gilge, retired fish biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and a long-time fisherman at the site, lobbied for the public meeting and to have access increased.
He said this morning that the push to restore the access was a concerted effort by a large number of fishermen.
“The bureau finally listened to the concerns of common-sense fishermen, and we appreciate their response …, ” he said. “It shows what you can do when you make a concerted effort. ”
Gilge added, “There will be a number of us trying our old fishing holes again. ”
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who pushed for increased access to the site and for the public meeting held in Havre, applauded the decision.
“Montanans cherish public access to our public lands, lakes and rivers, and we must always responsibly balance that key part of our heritage with national security, ” he said in a release Tuesday. “This common-sense solution strikes that balance, and I appreciate the Bureau responding to the concerns of Montana’s sportsmen and women. ”
Steve Chvilicek, acting president of the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, said the increased access will help Walleyes Unlimited meet their goal of improving and supporting local fishing, especially for the youth.
“I know that it’s going to improve the access for fishermen to go down there and enjoy the (site) again, ” he said.