Four years after the City of Missoula bought Fort Missoula, plans to turn it into a major regional park are finally underway. Coupled with the recent successful bond to fund the Historical Museum, officials think the complex could become a major oasis of culture and recreation.
“I think if all went as well as we’d like, the community in Missoula would have probably its single most significant regional park complex,” says Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler.
Fort Missoula has a dynamic history, including a stint as an internment camp during World War II. In addition to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the site also hosts a Military Museum.
“It’s kind of like taking all of our best parks we already have in our community and mixing them all into this regional park,” she says.
“You take some of the best aspects of Bonner Park, some of the best aspects of the riverfront trails system, and the best of what already exists at Fort Missoula and you roll them into one and have them all at one site.”
The city bought the property from the University of Montana in 1998 with open space bond money. A working group formed in January 2001 to start the park planning process, but several obstacles popped up in the last year. One was a conflict with a veterans’ group that wanted to build a cemetery on the site. They have since decided to find a site elsewhere. There was also a conflict with the Military Museum over Guardsman Lane. The city and the Military Museum have now resolved that issue and are both supporting a survey to figure out how best to handle the road.
The city council will hold a public hearing on the plan at its next meeting. If the city approves the plan it next goes to the county. County commissioners will have the option of putting a bond measure on the ballot this November to fund the project.
“We know that it’s a challenge because there’s a lot to try to inform the public on,” Gaukler says. “But I also have a strong belief that Missoula County citizens really care about their open spaces, green spaces and opportunities to recreate and share meaningful time with their families, and those are the types of things that happen in parks like this.”