Hamilton gets a step closer to having new riverfront park


HAMILTON, Mont. - The city of Hamilton is a step closer to having a new park along the Bitterroot River.

On council's agenda Tuesday, is to review and approve documents to accept a land donation from the Bitterroot Land Trust. It's 22 acres of wild, natural habitat in the city.

Hamilton City Parks Director Terry Cole loves the stretch of trail that winds along the Bitteroot River, through massive ponderosa pine trees, poplars and cattails.

"There are deer in here," said Cole. "We've seen foxes, and we've had a moose in here."

Cole said there won't be any major changes to the landscape.

"We're going to keep it in its natural habitat," he said. "We want this beauty left as it is for all future people to see."

That's what the executive director of the Bitterroot Land Trust said the family that owned the land wanted.

Gavin Ricklefs said the Taber family was generous in allowing the trust to purchase the acreage for well below its appraised value. He calls it a great gift from the Tabers.

"It's a gift that the community has come together in a big way," said Ricklefs, "to support the purchase of the land," to donate to the city.

The property cost about $165,000.

The county's voter-approved open lands bond covered $35,000 of that. The rest came from private donations.

The trail is about one-quarter of a mile that has been established by people and animals through the years.

It's in pretty good shape, but it does need some improvements.

"We will make these trails as handicapped accessible as possible," said Cole.

The parks director said diseased trees will be thinned to keep stands healthy. There will be a weed control program. There are plans to build a bridge over an irrigation canal. There will be benches, and well-behaved dogs are welcome on leashes.

"To be right in the middle of wilderness in the middle of town," said trail user Luanne Cathey, "I love it."

People who knew the late Steve Powell tell NBC Montana that would make him happy. The former county commissioner, musician and conservationist helped found the Bitterroot Land Trust, and worked closely with the Taber family.

"It's a place for all of us to be able to go and remember him," said Ricklefs, "and connect with his memory. It's important for the community."

The 22 acres is the largest undeveloped stretch of riverfront in Hamilton.