WALLACE — Wallace City Council is considering an idea from some of its residents that involves allowing access to the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River near the town’s visitor center.
“There is more interest than ever in the South Branch for recreation because the North Branch is overused and the South Branch is underdeveloped,” Wallace Councilman Elmer Mattila said. “This season a new float ramp will be installed near Smelterville due to increased interest in it. Some kayakers float the Mullan to Wallace stretch of the South Fork, but getting in and out of the river is tricky.
Councilman Mattila is part of the group that is interested in building an access point and is also setting up a clean-up effort that will remove the tons of industrial debris that litters the canal as it passes through town.
The Visitor Center is a major hub for Wallace, serving as the gateway to the city’s thriving tourism industry – but it also has a sizeable outdoor recreation area, restrooms and seating areas picnic area already in place.
Mattila explained that the City of Wallace will allow his group to build a trail to the river bank, as long as it is done properly and meets all trail standards. They have already started preliminary work and are working with McGillivray Environmental for a cost estimate for such a trail.
“A trail at the visitor center would be great as there are public restrooms, picnic tables, green space and paved parking available,” Mattila said. “Currently there are no funds for a trail, but there may be groups or organizations willing to help us with this endeavour.”
Although no plans are set in stone, Mattila believes that a solid update will be available by May this year.
“It’s not a function of the city but a group of volunteers trying to make this section of the river a better place while working with the city and other agencies,” he said.
The South Fork Coeur d’Alene River has been a point of contention between local government agencies and recreators for several years.
The 47-mile strip of water begins just northeast of Lookout Pass on the Idaho side of the Idaho/Montana state line, then passes through Mullan, Wallace, Osburn, Kellogg, and just north of Pinehurst before to converge with the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River at Enaville.
Much of the banks of the South Fork have been or are expected to be remediated as part of the ongoing Bunker Hill Superfund project – the river was one of the main ways heavy metal contamination from the mines spread through all of the Silver Valley, Chain Lakes region, and finally into Lake Coeur d’Alene.