County Parks Director J.P. Gallagher is on a team that will craft the next five-year Montana Outdoor Recreation Plan, which identifies trends and needs for outdoor activities and is a must for landing millions of federal dollars to support them.
The plan also provides guidance on how grant money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund could best be steered to individual projects in communities such as Butte, Boulder, Ennis and Deer Lodge.
Montana has doled out more than $38 million from the program since its inception in the 1960s, and Butte has been a frequent recipient since then.
About a dozen parks in Butte have benefited, Gallagher says, and $150,000 from the program two years ago helped secure a $500,000 donation from the Town Pump Charitable Foundation for Butte’s new waterpark.
To get the donation, Butte had to raise another $1 million in private and public money, in addition to the $7.2 million tab that Butte-Silver Bow taxpayers are footing.
“That $150,000 actually helped us get over the hump in matching money,” Gallagher said.
Montana’s Outdoor Recreation Plan must be updated every five years in order to keep the federal money flowing, and Gallagher is among more than two dozen people in Montana who will help craft a new version this year.
The federal grants require an equal local match. That means if a city gets $50,000 for a park, it must kick in $50,000 from its own sources.
“That’s a tough lift for many Montana communities, so we don’t get a lot of applications every cycle,” said Tom Reilly, assistant administrator for Montana State Parks.
But it does get them, and last year, more than $2.5 million was awarded to 13 projects around the state, including three in southwest Montana.
There was $60,300 for ballfields, track and playground renovation for the school district in Ennis, $21,000 for West Side Park playground upgrades in Deer Lodge and $52,066 for a parks project in Boulder.
The last plan covered 2014 to 2018 and helped identify outdoor recreation trends, needs and priorities at the state, regional and local levels.
Surveys found that in southwest Montana, the most popular outdoor activity for nonresidents was scenic driving, with more than 70 percent of people taking part in that. It was followed by wildlife watching, nature photography, day hiking and car or RV camping.
Among resident travelers in southwest Montana, the top activity was mountain biking, and among six regions in the state, the southwest was tops for hunting.
The top facility need cited by nine local outdoor officials was a pool or waterpark. When the last report was completed, Butte had been without an outdoor public pool for six years and it would take six more before its waterpark opened.
Other top needs statewide included playgrounds, expanding facilities, deferred maintenance, hiking and biking trails and water access.
An advisory group that will update the plan met for the first time on Nov. 28 in Helena, Gallagher said. The group includes state, federal and local parks officials, other state officials and help from the University of Montana.
Gallagher said nobody from Butte was on the last group so it will be good to have a voice on this one.
Butte-Silver Bow has a lot to share, he said, including its new waterpark, its new baseball stadium, its trails for mountain bikes and the success of Thompson Park, the only park jointly managed by a local government and the U.S. Forest Service.
As for local trends, Gallagher said snow biking is becoming a hit in Butte-Silver Bow, so much so that it was added as a race to this past Snöflinga winter festival.
“It is becoming a heck-of-a-lot more popular,” he said.
But input from the public, including outdoor enthusiasts and businesses that cater to them, is a key part of putting the plan together.
To get started, three three-hour meetings will be held in March: Kalispell on March 4, Billings on March 12 and Butte on March 13. The latter will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the Emergency Operations Center, 3615 Wynne Ave.
Gallagher said a coordinator from UM has invited about 135 people from Butte and surrounding counties, and more could be added. Anyone with interest in outdoor recreation issues is encouraged to attend.