Missoula's Silver Park got some much-needed love from a group of middle-school students Thursday afternoon.
The C.S. Porter Flagship program teamed up with Jennifer Anthony, an engineer at Fearless Engineers, the Rotary Club and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency to paint over tagging on bench shelters along the bike path in Silver Park.
Anthony organized the project to encourage Missoula youth to take pride in the park.
In 2008, Anthony enlisted the help of the Timber Framers Guild of Missoula to build three bench shelters in the park. A five-day workshop brought timber framers together to construct one of the timber structures. Other local shops built the other two shelters. The wood came from two local mill sites, including the one Silver Park sits on. Not a single nail was used in the construction process.
The new wooden structures were supposed to kick off a entire remodeling of the park.
However, on day two of the workshop, the stock market crashed, sending the economy spiraling downward. The park project was put on hold. Not long after the area had been temporarily abandoned, graffiti tags appeared on the hand-crafted wooden structures. A name would be scribbled on the wood with a permanent marker and soon another one would follow. The shelters soon had to be closed off.
Three years later, Anthony was back at work on the structures. She scurried around handing buckets of epoxy paint and paint brushes to kids as they brushed on the satin- finish paint to erase the black scars from past tagging.
Enthusiasm for the manual labor bubbled up from the group of preteens and teenagers. As they whisked their paint brushes along the wood grain, they chatted and giggled.
"I love painting," says Zoe Green, 13. "Painting is fun."
Green slapped another coat of milky paint on a wooden beam as she and her friend, Katie Gunter, rattled off all the activities they have done this summer with the Flagship program. Swimming, dance, field trips and, of course, painting the shelters topped their lists.
"Painting has been really fun," says Gunter, 14. "I didn't even know these were back here. I want to come back here now."
The C.S. Porter Flagship program offers activities for their students after school and during the summer free of charge.
"We have seen a decrease in alcohol and tobacco use in the school, and there has been has higher attachment to school," said Sienna Solberg, a Flagship staff member. "Working with youth and seeing them engaged and making friendships across grade levels is inspiring."
Solberg said Anthony reached out to the Flagship program to get the kids involved in their community and encourage their peers not to tag public property. The painting project was a way for the students to take ownership in the park and prevent further vandalizing by educating their peers.
"We want them to be proud of this project," said Solberg. "They really love anything hands-on."
The Rotary Club helped put the shelters up in 2008 and now they are back to help supervise the kids, provide supplies, and give the kids lunch.
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency paid for the paint and other materials. The special anti-graffiti paint costs $1,000 for five gallons. Anthony says not a drop will go to waste.
This is the first step in getting the park back on track, said Chris Behan, Missoula Redevelopment Agency's assistant director. He says the agency will get new grass in place by the end of August. The next project aims to clean up the leftovers from the Champion mill that once called the park home.
Behan said the city will try to recycle as much as possible. The gigantic wood pile that sits a few hundred feet from the bike trail will be turned to compost and the old cement will be reused.
"This has been a really neat project," Behan said of Silver Park. "We really see the community coming together on this."
Intern reporter Alyse Backus can be reached at 523-5240 or at alyse.backus @missoulian.com.