Doing more with less

Missoula's Ultimate Frisbee Federation has for years coveted a gravelly area on the south side of Playfair Park as a prime spot to hold spring competitions.

"It's kind of a torn up area, it's just not well maintained," says Missoula Ultimate Board President John O'Connor. "If you had to fall on it, you're going to take some skin off."

O'Connor, who also serves on Missoula's Parks and Recreation Board, realized the city wasn't likely to invest in improvements any time soon, so he brokered a precedent-setting partnership between Missoula Ultimate and the city to expand Playfair's south field.

"We've always wanted to do a service project," he says.

In December, Missoula Ultimate and the Missoula Strikers Soccer Club submitted to the Parks Department their vision of smoothing out the rocky and compacted soil to create a regulation-sized field for public use. The organizations committed to donating labor and cash to make it become a reality.

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The deal marks the first project to take advantage of a new program called Partners in Parks, which, as the city tries to do more with less, allows community members, businesses and nonprofit organizations to contribute to improving communal recreational space.

The volunteer commitment, says Missoula Recreation Manager Shirley Kinsey, made the Playfair effort possible, considering the city's financial constraints.

"We're nose to the grindstone with maintenance," Kinsey says.

That's largely why the city is creating a range of new policies through Partners in Parks to offer ways for the community to get involved. Another aspect of the program now awaiting Missoula City Council approval spells out how families, companies or individuals can pay for naming rights to public lands.

It's all part of an effort to spruce up recreational grounds and, at the same time, nurture a stronger sense of community responsibility.

"It's a community asset," Kinsey says. "Any time people feel connected with their community and their parks, they tend to take better care of them."

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