A plan to update the Rose Memorial Park elicited strong emotions from veterans groups and two aldermen at the City Council meeting Monday evening.
“This is sacred ground to me,” said Ward 4 Councilman Jon Wilkins in a voice that grew tense with emotion. “I’m a Vet… and this is probably the only place in Missoula where I shed tears.”
Wilkins’ comments echoed those of several local veterans groups during a public hearing over whether the City would adopt a master plan for Rose Memorial Park submitted by Parks and Recreation. The plan supports mixed-use of the area with more landscaping, paved walkways, bathrooms and pavilions. Despite reminders from Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler that the plan was only an un-funded “conceptual guide,” local veterans as well as council members spoke in unusually personal tones to underscore their feeling that the park’s simplicity was being overlooked by what several labeled a “grandiose” plan.
“This is a solemn place, and I cannot support this,” said Ward 5 Councilman Dick Haines, responding to the idea of the park becoming a mixed-use recreation area. “I have friends who have disappeared in the jungles of Vietnam. I think about that when I’m there. It’s not a picnic. It’s not a wedding.”
Many veterans who attended the public meeting described their experiences in the park as similar to visiting a cemetery. Hanes said he found the weddings “a desecration” of the site.
Following the emotional testimony, City Council sent the plan back to committee for further review. Gaukler seemed receptive to the public feedback, noting that the plan was proposed to meet a rise in the number of requests for new memorial items in the park, such as commemorative shrubs, benches or trees.