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So, just what is Butte getting at Stodden Park now that the pot of money to make it all possible has swelled from $2.5 million to $5.5 million?

A lot, it turns out, including a sprawling playground area with big mining features such as headframes with slides and an ore-hauler dump truck — yellow, of course, with a load capacity of 110 kids.

There's also a snow-capped "Big M" hill to climb on, the whole area is accessible to wheelchairs, and parents can utilize equipment to exercise while keeping an eye on their young ones.

There was already a lot planned with an initial $2.5 million donated from the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation and Montana Resources, including a playground that would cost about $300,000.

Now, thanks to an additional $3 million they're contributing, a playground costing nearly three times as much will be constructed.

"They decided, if we were going to promote this as a 'destination playground,' let's make it a destination playground," said parks director J.P. Gallagher.

With the extra money, some less glamorous but vital components envisioned under previous plans — but not immediately affordable — are now part of the "let's do it now" package.

They include a second entrance and roadway into the park off of Rowe Road, retention ponds and other storm-water improvements, and adding nearly 150 parking spaces for a total of 374.

An ice-skating ribbon will encircle the carousel, adding a feature folks can enjoy in the winter. Three hundred new trees with leaves of all colors will be put in. Walkways will connect everything, including the $8.7-million waterpark under construction, new carousel, new tennis courts, and the existing golf course and softball fields.

The "midway" will have boulders, planters, benches, overhead timbers to mimic a mine shaft, and garbage cans that look like ore carts. Two picnic shelters and a Columbia Gardens-like dance pavilion are part of the affordable plans, too.

With the initial donation from the Washington Foundation — and the additional $3 million now — Butte is getting a Cadillac upgrade plan that, when teamed with the waterpark and carousel, should make all of Stodden a "destination park."

"I think it's going to be great for adults and children alike," said Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow's chief executive. "It's going to be a first-class facility once it's all done."

MONEY, THEN MORE MONEY

It was just a little more than a year ago that the Washington Foundation and MR announced they would donate $2.5 million for upgrades at Stodden.

It marked their largest, single donation to Butte and came on top of $1 million they gave toward the new American Legion baseball stadium at Copper Mountain that opened this past spring.

When the $2.5 million was announced in September 2016, the foundation's executive director, Mike Halligan, called it "an investment" in the Mining City instead of a "gift."

He said donations toward capital projects were outside the foundation's normal mission and scope, but they saw the partnerships involved at Stodden and believed they could unify Butte.

Only a few months before that, in early June 2016, voters approved a $7.2-million bond issue by a 60-40 margin to pay for a majority of construction costs for a new public pool.

Two months prior, Maureen and Thomas Kenneally said their Town Pump Charitable Foundation would put $500,000 toward a "lazy river," twisting slides, and other "frills" if the county and other private donors could raise $1 million for them. They did.

The waterpark should open next spring, and the carousel should be operating by then, too, if not sooner. The carousel has been 20 years in the making, almost all of it a labor of love and a project that kids, individuals, and local businesses have made possible.

All of this and the end result at Copper Mountain were not lost on the Washington Foundation and its decision to add $3 million more to Stodden, Gallagher said.

"They were impressed with the passing of the bond issue that hadn't passed in forever," he said. "I think when they saw the community investing back into themselves, they said, 'Yes!' It has been a process of kind of building a trust with them."

NEW ROAD, NEW FRILLS

County officials and engineers with Butte-based Water & Environmental Technologies (WET), the lead designer and coordinator of the project, have been working fast and furiously for several months getting all the upgrades lined up.

It took numerous meetings with the Montana Department of Transportation, for example, to get the entrance off Rowe Road approved. The agency has jurisdiction over Rowe, and the only vehicle entrance to the park now is off Utah Avenue.

The newer entrance will be a little further southeast of Lexington Avenue than originally planned, and — more importantly — it can be paid for now.

The roadway will skirt between the softball fields and the golf course, heading north from Rowe before curling east and connecting to a parking area. It will be lined with trees when done.

Anthony Laslovich, a project engineer for WET, said the road will not only serve the public when completed, it will give construction crews a second way in while they work.

Both of the existing parking areas will be expanded and well-lit, and new spaces will be added along the east roadway that leads to the golf clubhouse and tennis courts.

The playground initially envisioned was pretty fancy and included a headframe with a short zip-line and hill area, but everyone started thinking bigger. So much so, in fact, that they solicited competitive designs and bids for just the playground area.

The one chosen — by Pennsylvania-based Playworld and Northwest Playground Equipment Inc. of Issaquah, Washington — has three headframes 20 feet tall with fall-proof platforms at 9 feet and slides and other climbing features. The miniature Big M is 12 feet high, and the mining truck is 14 feet high with room for 110 kids in the back and three twisting slides coming off the sides.

There are numerous other play features scattered about, including a "PentaWeb" that resembles a giant spider web and a "Branch Out," a hub of nets, ropes, and flex treads that encourages vertical climbing.

"The scale of these things is pretty impressive," said Josh Vincent, a principal and marketing director at WET. "This playground is something that not anybody is going to have seen."

A major selling point was that all big play features are surrounded and connected by rubberized surfaces that are easy to navigate in wheelchairs or walkers. The entire area was evaluated by Todd Hoar, the county's director of Developmental Disability Services, to ensure maximum usability by all.

There are two "stations" next to the playground that have all sorts of equipment that teens and adults can exercise with, be they beginners or intermediate or advanced users.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Commissioners awarded H&H Contracting in Butte this week with a contract for much of the work — about $3.6 million worth — although the two picnic shelters and dance pavilion will be re-bid.

Some preliminary work on the plan will be done in the next several weeks, but the bulk of the work will come next spring and summer. If things go as planned, it could be completed by next fall.

"The coordination is going to be very critical, because the park has to stay open and we'll have the pool going and the carousel," Vincent said.

Gallagher said Missoula has a new park, and it is impressive, but it is more sports-oriented, and the playground there isn't nearly as grand as the one planned for Stodden.

From the start, he said, the idea was to make changes that could benefit and attract the most people, including those who just want a nice place to go for a picnic or family reunion.

"Everyone in the community can find something to do in this area," he said.

Palmer said it should also draw in folks from outside of Butte, since there will be enough to do for an entire day or weekend.

"It will be a great place to spend time," he said.

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Government and politics reporter

Reporter with emphasis on government and politics.

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