First it was the Big Butte, now the Mountain Con.
Because of drinking, drug use and trash strewn about, among other problems, a gate will soon be installed at the Mountain Con entrance to keep people in vehicles from going to a favorite look-out point over Butte late at night.
“It’s being abused during the evening and late hours,” Parks Director J.P. Gallagher said Tuesday. “There has been all kinds of under-age drinking and drug use in the parking lot and they think it’s a good place to burn out (tires) and drag race from end to end.”
A gravel road leading to a popular overlook on Big Butte, or Big M, was blocked off last year because of constant littering and illegal drug use. A gate was later installed allowing vehicle access during the day but it is closed at night, when the problems occurred.
During a cleanup of the area before the road was closed, parks officials found garbage everywhere and more than 40 used drug needles and syringes. When a dumpster was placed on the overlook, it was pushed down the hillside.
The plan at Mountain Con is to install a gate and close and lock it around 10 p.m. each night in the warm months and open it back up around 6 a.m., Gallagher said.
Those hours might change when daylight gets shorter and winter sets in, he said, but that would be assessed then. No matter what time of year, there are other points to access the walking and biking trail that runs past the Mountain Con, he said.
Commissioners are being asked to approve a $5,500 contract with the Anaconda Foundry Fabrication Co. to produce and install the gate. Their bid was the lowest among three companies asked to submit quotes.
Gallagher said teenagers and young adults are causing most of the problems at the Mountain Con.
The county has wrestled with vandalism and illicit activity at many of its parks for years, especially during summer, and is now paying a private security firm on a temporary basis to lock gates, park bathrooms and tennis courts at night. Problems have especially been bad at Clark Park on the Flat.
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Gallagher said he and members of the Parks and Recreation Board want to hold a community discussion at Clark Park in the next week or two to discuss ways of discouraging bad behavior that “is pushing people away from our parks.”
“It is sad what we are dealing with,” he said. “We need the public’s involvement in this.”
Sheriff Ed Lester said the Mountain Con is a “great place to overlook the city” and take a walk but police have been getting more calls from nearby Centerville residents complaining about noise, drinking and other problems. They are cropping up at the Granite Mountain Memorial area, too, he said.
“We have increased the patrols up there,” Lester said. “We do drive by and we do respond to the calls but it’s the same as the other parks. We just don’t have the personnel to leave someone at the Mountain Con parking lot or at Clark Park or Stodden Park.
“We do patrol the Mountain Con as we can, it’s just a matter of prioritizing where we are and responding to the calls we have,” he said.
Gallagher, on an emergency basis, recently hired Timberline Security to close and lock gates and bathrooms at numerous parks each night. He wants commissioners to approve a longer-term contract for those services, but that has hit a snag.
Tony Bonney, who works for the county’s Water Division, told commissioners that he has been doing that work for years and if there are new parks included now, it can be done with existing county employees or a newly hired one.
Gallagher said a county employee has closed a few park gates at night, but not locked all the restrooms, and sometimes the Water Division is too busy addressing water issues.
Dave Palmer, the county’s chief executive, says details for a longer-term contract with Timberline are still being worked out. In the meantime, Gallagher says, Timberline is closing the gates and locking all the bathrooms at night.