River property

The parcel Yellowstone River Parks Association has negotiated to buy is on the right of the South Billings Boulevard Bridge, just across from Riverfront Park, as seen in this aerial photo.

LARRY MAYER, GAZETTE STAFF

A deal is near on the purchase of about 15 acres along the Yellowstone River — just across from Riverfront Park — that would provide public access to the stream as well as a location for a new boat ramp.

“It’s pretty exciting because it’s a key site,” said Ken Frazer, fisheries manager for Region 5 in Billings.

The property, owned by Scobey residents Rick and Dawn Lee, is just downstream of the South Billings Boulevard Bridge, along the Old Blue Creek Road to the Billings Motorcycle Club’s grounds. The land will provide about 550 feet of river frontage.

The Yellowstone River Parks Association negotiated and helped fund the purchase but will be seeking help from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to develop the boat ramp, a parking area, road and latrine.

“This will be another nice access along the Yellowstone,” said Darryl Wilson, president of YRPA. “It fits nicely into that area.”

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Land deal

The property outlined in blue is being sold to the Yellowstone River Parks Association and its partners to create a new fishing access site along the Yellowstone River at South Billings Boulevard.

River access

The site would break up what now can be a long float for canoeists, rafters and tubers between FWP’s fishing access sites. The nearest one upstream is about seven miles, near Duck Creek Bridge. Downstream six miles there’s a boat ramp at Coulson Park. Some boaters and floaters have been taking out at Riverfront, but since 2011 the river has moved farther away from the park, making it a bit of a walk across a gravel bar to reach the water.

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River floaters

The Yellowstone River is popular with tubers and others who enjoy getting out on the water. A deal between Yellowstone River Parks Association and the sellers of 15 acres downstream of the South Billings Boulevard Bridge would improve access to the river for recreational users. 

The launch would also provide another access point for search and rescue boats that are often dispatched during river emergencies, cutting the response time to reach different areas of the river, which is popular with summer recreationists.

Prior attempt

FWP had negotiated to buy the land in 2011, but nothing ever coalesced, Frazer said.

“It’s a site we’ve been looking at for quite a while.”

When the state began seeking proposals for recreation projects along the river as part of the $12 million settlement from ExxonMobil over its 2011 pipeline rupture and oil spill near Laurel, the Lee property was again mentioned, Frazer said.

Wilson said FWP officials asked YRPA about three months ago to pursue purchase of the land. Our Montana brought the landowners to the table.

“We will probably help with development costs,” Frazer said. “It’s a great spot for a boat ramp because it’s a protected chunk of river right below the bridge.”

Closing in

With the survey and appraisal now completed, YRPA is scheduled to close on the deal at the end of January, Wilson said. The negotiated price was $207,000, but with the additional costs of appraisals and surveys he said the final price tag will be closer to $225,000.

Wilson predicted it will take another $150,000 to $200,000 to develop the property and demolish an old farm house.

Funding for the project will be a mix. YRPA emptied its coffers of $125,000 for the property. Wilson announced in a letter that the Montana Fish & Wildlife Conservation Trust will help with funding. In his letter, Wilson asked the public to support the project by writing the trust at: P.O. Box 1993 Helena, MT, 59624 or by emailing fwctrust@mtoutdoorlegacy.org.

Frazer said the Natural Resource Damage Program, which is administering a portion of the ExxonMobil spill funds, could help with the costs if the deal ranks high enough with the Yellowstone River Recreation Advisory Project Committee. 

The advisory committee will advance its proposals to Gov. Steve Bullock in mid-January. The governor will have final say on which of the proposed recreational projects get funded.

“Until they make the final decision, I’m not sure how it will play out,” Frazer said. 

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