A long-awaited improvement is coming to the Fort Owen State Park at Stevensville. The site is closed now while Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks finish up the aquisition of almost an acre of land from the Fort Owen Ranch to add a larger parking area and a turnaround to allow more general access to the historic property. Recently, the Friends of Fort Owen group celebrated the State Parks and Recreation Board approval of the land purchase, announcing it on their Facebook page and also recognizing the influence of the late Dale Burk in creating the group and helping keep a public interest in the property.

This week, Vivaca Crowser of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) reported that while the park is closed, FWP will conduct an inventory of cultural resources, design the new parking area and present the plan to the public for review. After that, construction will begin, with a goal of re-opening the property next summer.

The fort dates back to 1841, when Father Pierre DeSmet started St. Mary's Mission at the request of the valley's Native Americans. In 1850, Major John Owen turned it into a regional trading post and rest stop. Only one portion of the adobe and wood fort remains today and has been open for self-guided tours, with very limited parking adjacent to the privately owned Fort Owen Ranch. The improvements, according to Crowser, will provide more parking for larger groups and establish a better separation of the park and the neighboring ranch. Park Manager Maci MacPherson will have more updates as work progresses. Fort Owen is located on the cut-off road between US 93 and the north end of Stevensville.