Wild and green 

Reflections on 100 years in Greenough Park

Since its creation 100 years ago, Greenough Park has established itself as Missoula’s most wild park, with impenetrable tangles of dogwood and serviceberry, foot-traffic-only paths, towering ponderosa pines and blunt cottonwood snags.

“It’s an amazing place for being so urban,” says neighbor Suzie Spindler. “It’s the only place you can lose yourself and then hear someone’s stereo.”

A resident of a nearby cul-de-sac, Spindler says she never could have tolerated moving from West Yellowstone to Missoula six years ago were it not for the chance to watch the daily changes in Rattlesnake Creek or the seasonal arrival and departure of flowers while remaining so close to the center of the city.

“No one day is ever the same,” Spindler says. “Even in the winter the amount of snow is different.”

Spindler spent Monday afternoon walking her dog, Founder, the length of the park, with a stop at the lower bridge for a game of catch while a man with another dog walked by and a woman pulling a bike trailer with child pedaled past.

Thomas L. Greenough and his wife Tennessee purchased 20 acres in the spring of 1902 and on June 2 the city accepted their donation along with seven acres from the Missoula Real Estate Association and two acres from the Missoula Water Company.

The paperwork, however, was not completed until December and since then the donation has been called a Christmas gift. At least that’s the explanation preferred by Kathleen Kennedy, a science teacher at Big Sky High School and a dedicated fan of the park.

A member of the Greenough Park Advisory Board since 1993, Kennedy coordinated the recent centennial celebration. The activities began with a festival last Sunday, which was attended by some 300 people (as measured by the amount of cake consumed), who endured intermittent rain during historic reenactments and butterfly, bird and stream restoration tours. Centennial activities continue Friday during the gallery walk. Entries in the poster competition, art inspired by the park, and historic photographs will be displayed at the Worden home, a big white house on Pine Street two blocks from downtown.

From her perspective, Kennedy says people love Greenough Park because it provides wilderness at their front doors, a feature due in no small part to a unique advisory committee that manages the park in conjunction with the city.

“Everyone has some experience or personal connection to the park,” Kennedy says. “And it runs the gamut, from a romantic walk to a wildlife encounter.”

A popular gathering place for years, Greenough Park attracted development schemes soon after it was chartered. In 1904, Michael Whiteman built a circular stone bear pit and installed a brown bear named “Gingerbread Man” and a black bear named “Merely Mary Ann.”

Then in 1903, C.F. Roe constructed a fenced enclosure for deer who finally ate a hole in the city budget and were shipped off in 1910. Some went to the Bison Range while others were delivered to a man who had a claim against the city.

Reportedly, the bear pit remained in use until 1920. Eventually a roof was built over it and the structure was used as a storehouse. It is still there, near the bathrooms at the southwestern corner of the park. Over the years other projects came and went. There was a dance pavilion, a fountain to serve as watering hole for dogs and horses, a merry-go-round, a fish hatchery, a fishing pond for children, and a wading pool.

But the philosophy of Greenough Park has always been to preserve a piece of wild within the city, not to add ball parks or groom the abundant vegetation. Longtime resident M.Y. “Bo” Foster remembers arguments between the city and the advisory committee, of which his wife Virginia was a member, regarding a 13-point management plan that required the park be maintained naturally. “Mr. Greenough insisted on that when he donated the land to the city,” Foster says. “[The committee] established the points as legitimate and saved the park in its natural state.”

Thomas L. Greenough didn’t approve of so-called improvements like the bear pit, although Tennessee was instrumental in procuring the dance pavilion on the eastside. In 1911 he complained that the “menagerie” was a nuisance and noted that other cities were spending millions to make their parks look natural, as Greenough Park already was, not devoid of shrubs and vines, as the city seemed bent on.

Although it’s been 25 years since Foster has seen a porcupine in the park, deer and osprey continue to make regular appearances alongside the resident small game and orioles, warblers and woodpeckers. In addition, there’s the spring and fall visits from bears.

“My wife and I were birders,” Foster says, gesturing to the wooden deck perched on the hillside over the park. “But just right here. We’d walk through the park only occasionally.”

As relatives of the Greenough family, Foster and his wife moved onto the property in 1940, displacing the future Sen. Mike Mansfield, then a professor at the University of Montana. The newlyweds enjoyed their surroundings at once, Foster recalls.

Throughout their lives, Foster and his wife encouraged similar conservation efforts on Waterworks Hill because they understood how much living next to a piece of wild land within the city contributed to their happiness and how valuable it made their home.

“I just had a call today,” Foster says. “I said I’m still not interested in selling. If I was, I’d be looking for something just like it, and there isn’t anything.”

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