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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has temporarily closed the Smith River to floating due to ice jams.

In a rule certified Tuesday by the secretary of state’s office, FWP says river conditions pose a danger to recreationists.

“There are intermittent ice jams on the Smith River that have caused the river to be impassable by recreationists. The steep canyon walls provide a perfect place for ice to collect and remain due to lack of sun exposure,” the closure notice states.

Smith River State Park manager Colin Maas said a group of floaters launched Friday afternoon, making it only about halfway down the 59-mile stretch of river before encountering impassable ice. 

"Luckily some landowners at the Castle Bar Subdivision happened to be at their cabin and helped them get out," he said. "We've got additional reports of two or more ice jams as well."

While April is a traditionally volatile time of year for floating due to weather, the forecast looked good enough last week for the party to launch. The latest bout of cold temperatures is not forecast to significantly change in the next few days, Maas said, adding that he was in contact with FWP pilots about a fly-over before reopening.

"We'd hate to reopen it without being 100 percent sure it's open because there are so many narrow pockets in the canyon," he said. 

The closure affects all floating on the river between Camp Baker and Eden Bridge.

April is the lightest month in terms of floating, but the increasingly popular and hard-to-get permit for the prime months of mid-May to mid-June has seen an uptick in interest in the early and late seasons. 

Maas said that a "fair number" of floaters were scheduled for April, but many have already canceled with the cold spring. With uncertainty around the length of the emergency closure, it is unclear how many float parties will be affected. 

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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