Wintry weather has laid claim to the vacant land that’s been a neglected city park and is envisioned to become a place where trees and bushes produce food with space set aside for a community garden.
The Sixth Ward Park is tucked behind the Helena Area Transit Service building. Its neighbors are commercial and industrial. An empty blue and white building made of concrete blocks across Bozeman Street is for sale. A boxing club is part of the neighborhood, as is a moving and storage business. Bunks of lumber sit behind a wire fence along the east side of the park’s property.
But just down the street is a commercial neighborhood and the historic railroad depot. A black North Pacific Railroad locomotive and tender car are parked there on display. The park, like the railroad, is seen as a community asset waiting to be tapped.
The railroad yards could become a place for train aficionados to visit and photograph, just as the park is planned to provide a new kind of outdoor space for people to use.
The past eight months have been spent working with Inside Edge Design of Helena to create a design for the 1.1 acre site, said Amy Teegarden, the city’s parks and recreation director.
Plans for a design and how the park will be developed will guide what happens there in the next five years, she continued.
The design and implementation plan for the property was prepared in conjunction with Dave Jacke, an ecological landscape designer and author of “Edible Forest Gardens,” the park plan stated.
This plan for the park notes that it was created through meetings in the early months of 2013 with community stakeholders to identify shared community values for the property.
“Imagine! As you enter the 6th Ward Forest Garden Park, the heat of the late August day evaporates,” the plan’s introduction begins. “Trellised above your head are plump purple grape clusters, and you take a handful as you pass under. To your right are apples and pears nearly ripe! To your left the hazelnuts! In the distance ahead, you see gardeners and (Helena) Food Share volunteers harvesting.”
This is the latest vision for land that brought together community members nearly 100 years.
Helena’s Teamsters Union donated 125 wagonloads of dirt to level the area for a park in 1915. Local plumbers donated services to install plumbing and Standard Engineering donated lighting and concrete, say news accounts from the time.
From the 1920s to 1960s, the west side of the park held a baseball field. But with the removal of the baseball field and wading pool that had been installed there, use of the park declined. City residents do come to the park to pick lilac blooms from the hedge there, the plan for the park stated.
And while there is now a detailed plan for the park’s future, much of what happens in the years to come will depend on funding, Teegarden said.
The four-year budget for the park, from September 2014 through September 2018, is projected to be $892,047, although that won’t be the out-of-pocket cost.
“This is as if we were going to go out and buy everything, but we’re not,” Teegarden said. “That’s the value of the things we will get through volunteer efforts, contributions.”
Because the city has a detailed plan for developing the park, Teegarden said, it’s in a very competitive position to seek grants to help fund the work.
Funds can be sought from organizations that provide financial support for different activities, she said, explaining that the Food Share aspect of the garden will appeal to some funders just as the educational and playground components will appeal to others.
The private fundraising goal for this fall is $25,000 to pay for a fence with gates around the property, signage, a webpage and similar startup costs, as well as soil improvement, said Chris Stockwell, who is the development chairman for the project. The city will add sidewalks and divert storm water onto the property to cut watering costs, adding $30,000 to the value of the park, he added.
Of the $25,000, $17,000 has already been raised, said Stockwell.
Donations already in-hand for the project don’t surprise Stockwell, who said Helena supports many organizations that are trying to raise funds for many things.
Another factor he sites in this initial support for the Sixth Ward Garden Park is the popularity of gardening, which makes the audience of potential donors large.
While the park plan offers a vision for the property’s future, it also addresses a legacy from the past.
Soil sampling has identified levels of arsenic and lead in the soil, and the report said, “The heavy metals, lead and arsenic, present in high levels (particularly lead) in many areas of the 6th Ward Park are a challenge.”
The plan provides suggestions for use of park lands based on the levels of lead in the soil.
Editor's Note -- This story has been revised to clarify the private fundraising goal and the city's planned contributions.