Officials from the state, county and federal governments met Monday to discuss the growing dangers they see brewing near the Blackfoot River due to overcrowding and partying between Whitaker Bridge and Johnsrud Park.
And not a moment too soon. Greta Wrolstad, a University of Montana student, died Tuesday morning from injuries she reportedly sustained in a two-vehicle collision at the entrance to Johnsrud Park Road Friday afternoon. A second UM student in the car, Christine Bown, was in fair condition at St. Patrick Hospital on Tuesday. No information as to the cause of the wreck was available at press time.
That incident marks the second serious collision in less than a week at the Johnsrud turnoff. Interagency law enforcement officials are now looking at what can be done about the “party atmosphere” along the Blackfoot River corridor, including underage and excessive drinking, drunken driving, illegal parking, speeding and nudity, to name a few.
Though there is no indication that alcohol was involved in the crash that claimed the life of Wrolstad, officials say it is just another example of the difficult issues they face at the popular summertime recreation site.
“Access from Highway 200 to the Blackfoot corridor sees hundreds of cars making that turn every day. We need to find a way to make that a more safe situation,” says Fish, Wildlife & Parks Warden Captain Jeff Darrah.
Increased tubing activity on the Blackfoot in recent years has exacerbated a problem that has existed for years, says Darrah, and users of the Blackfoot are in danger of “loving it to death.” Although no long-term solutions to the overcrowding near Johnsrud have been proposed, law enforcement officials have vowed to crack down on illegal activity in hopes of discouraging partiers and preventing accidents.
“We’re hoping that the presence of law enforcement will deter underage drinking and illegal activity,” says Darrah. “If you want to go to Johnsrud and have a beer and be responsible, swim, park your vehicle in a legal spot, that’s great. It’s the guy that turns up the music, throws beer bottles and parks illegally that’s not welcomed at that site, and we don’t want you there.”