Parks 

A small step for Fort Missoula

The approval of a 50-year lease of University of Montana-owned land by the Montana Board of Regents May 27 brought Missoula one step closer to the long-planned and little publicized Fort Missoula Regional Park, a 246-acre recreation hub west of town.

It's the first tangible news from the project since the Missoula City Council unveiled the first stage of the master site plan in 2008, says Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler. The step forward may be small—the lease covers a mere 10.63 acres of the entire project—but shows the city hasn't given up on the plan.

"Until the thing with UM, the primary story has been we're kinda lining up the ducks, paper wise or wherever we can, so when the time is right we've got that done," Gaukler says.

The regional park has been in the works since 1995, when the city and county adopted the Missoula Urban Area Open Space Plan. The city purchased a chunk of the land from UM in 1998 with the intent of establishing a large-scale recreation area, and city officials adopted the Fort Missoula Regional Park Plan in 2002. The plan calls for—among other attractions—nine multi-use sports fields, an all-seasons pavilion and three miles of trails with human-made ponds.

Total cost is estimated at $6 million. Once the infrastructure is in place the park will take between three and 10 years to complete.

"We can broach it in any number of phases," Gaukler says. "We left it so, after we get infrastructure and that, we can go a lot of different directions depending on who the partners are and what the funding source might be."

The city now has 72 months to build a 300-space parking lot on the newly rented property, Gaukler says, or it will have to renegotiate the lease with the regents. According to Hugh Jesse, director of facility services at UM, the lease agreement states Missoula will share the lot with UM's College of Technology and install a bus shelter for UM's Park N Ride system. Initial estimates put the cost of the lot, with amenities, at $554,861. Gaukler says the city will likely use credits from Knife River Corp. to cover a majority of the expenses.

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