The "most utilized recreation site" in the Forest Service's Northern Region is a little lake northwest of Darby - Lake Como.

With an estimated 200,000 visitors each year, Lake Como is a magnet for just about everybody who comes to the Bitterroot Valley. The popularity has only increased each year, and the Bitterroot National Forest is hoping to chart the future of the mountain lake.

A Management Plan will be written by the Bitterroot National Forest and local opinions and ideas are being encouraged at three meetings this month.

Tod McKay of the Bitterroot National Forest said the "open house" style of meetings will be:

  • Wednesday January 18 - Darby Community Clubhouse from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Saturday January 21 - Bitterroot National Forest Supervisors Office in Hamilton from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • McKay said the open houses are the first part of the planning process and can be a sort of brainstorming phase. Ideas of future uses are welcome. Maps will be available, along with some potential ideas that have been proposed.

    If you can't attend the meetings, use a comment form at the Bitterroot National Forest website. And, you can call Erica Strayer at the Darby/Sula Ranger District (406) 821-3913.

    Current uses of the lake include summertime boating and swimming, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, RV parking, along with skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing in the winter.

    Lake Como has been popular with humans from ancient times, with valuable artifacts, projectile points and stone tools found along the original shoreline. The lake's holding capacity was enlarged by a dam in the 1930s that provides irrigation water along the east side of the Bitterroot Valley in the Big Ditch. The Bitterroot irrigation District has continued improvements in the dam and the distribution canals since then.

    Como Lake usually shrinks back to its original size at the end of irrigation season in the fall. (Mike Daniels, Townsquare Media)