Last Friday, the city celebrated the opening of its latest park, a sparkling 14.5-acre expanse of green grass, bike paths and gorgeous wooden structures situated along the Clark Fork. Silver Park is by all accounts a huge accomplishment, another step toward revitalizing the long dormant Champion-Intermountain mill site next to the Osprey baseball stadium. If the crowds over the weekend are any indication, it’s going to be as popular as any riverfront trail in the area. There were countless bicyclists, pickup soccer games and kids’ birthday parties taking advantage of the newly accessible scenery.
There were also remnants of the site’s past, most notably some old industrial machinery piled not far from the gleaming new picnic shelters. If a curious onlooker explored that machinery and the other piles of rubble and soil not yet dealt with, they may have been surprised by what they found: a modest homeless camp. Stuffed within the columns of the machinery were at least three sleeping bags. Camouflaged tents covered a small center area, almost like a courtyard, not visible from the park’s trails. Suitcases were stuffed into other nooks of the enclosure. This camp wasn’t any different than those found under the Reserve Street bridge or down the Kim Williams Trail except for the fact that it happened to be 50 yards from the latest jewel in the city’s crown. It showed, if nothing else, that Friday’s opening ceremony hardly marks an endpoint to the city’s revitalization efforts.
Another noteworthy juxtaposition played out last weekend at a different industrial site. On Saturday night, Headwaters Dance Co. treated a busload of art lovers to a touring site-specific performance. Dance pieces were set all along the Blackfoot River, deep in the woods and right on the roadside. The last piece took place at the old Stimson Lumber mill in Bonner, a site that’s seen spurts of activity in recent years, and holds the promise of a new company moving in to, in part, assemble megaload equipment for transport to Canada. But the mill has yet to fully recapture the bustle of its heyday. It’s also probably never hosted a dance concert. That’s why the presence of a half-dozen dancers, live music and a busload of onlookers prompted neighbors to pour out onto their porches or yards and take in the scene. Those neighbors know as well as anyone that reviving an industrial site takes time, and can happen in many ways—including, for at least one night, with a dance.