For nearly three years, Greenough Park's well-worn trail system has been missing an integral connection: a footbridge at the north end of the tree-shaded oasis that once tied the park's 42-meandering acres together.
That's about to change. At the end of this month, finally, a new bridge will be unveiled.
"It really took a long, long time," says Allen White, project manager with the Missoula City Parks and Recreation Department.
Engineers removed the footbridge in 2008 to protect it from floodwaters rising up from Rattlesnake Creek. Since then, a series of bureaucratic, environmental and financial challenges branded the first bridge obsolete and prevented a new bridge from being installed.
After the footbridge was removed in 2008, natural water flow widened Rattlesnake Creek at the crossing, compromising the bridge's existing support structures. City engineers and partnering stakeholders were then forced to rebuild those foundations—rocky abutments on the edge of Rattlesnake Creek—and fabricate a new, longer bridge.
Financing the $20,000 project proved to be another hurdle. But stimulus money came through last year, as well as donations raised by the nonprofit Friends of Missoula Parks.
Permits posed the last challenge. Since Rattlesnake Creek is prime bull trout-spawning habitat, and bull trout are a federally protected species, the city had to jump through multiple hoops before getting the official green light from regulatory agencies.
"Two and a half years later, we finally got a permit," White says.
Today, the new bridge is complete and ready to be installed. Engineers are at work rebuilding bridge abutments and installing natural diversions upstream to protect the structure's future integrity.
Missoula Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler says her department has had to hustle to get the bridge off the ground. But protecting the integrity of Rattlesnake Creek and its inhabitants makes the work worth it.
"It takes a lot of extra effort in how we manage Greenough Park," Gaukler says. "While it's a hassle, would any of us give that up? No."