Every day, I feel lucky to live in Missoula, a truly wonderful part of the world, where my family is surrounded by beauty and recreational opportunities at every turn. From the open vistas of Blue Mountain to the bustle of bikes and pedestrians on the Riverfront Trail, opportunities to enjoy nature and recreate are within easy reach – Missoula and Missoula County parks and trails.

Parks and trails enrich our lives, helping keep each of us healthy and making our entire community more vibrant. As spring unfolds in the coming weeks, it is timely to consider our parks and trails, including what is necessary to take care of them.

In Missoula proper, we boast more than 400 acres of city park land, more than 50 developed parks, 22 miles of trails and 3,300 acres of conservation lands. Park amenities and assets include everything from picnic shelters to basketball courts, off-leash dog parks to soccer fields, tennis courts to indoor and outdoor pools. And with much help from private citizens, this spring construction will begin anew on our newest amenity, the All-Abilities Playground at McCormick Park. Every year tens of thousands of children, families and people of all walks of life play, exercise or just plain relax in Missoula and Missoula County parks. Our parks and trails attract residents, visitors and businesses alike.

Last month, the Missoula City Council adopted our Park Asset Management Plan, an important tool for maintaining, renovating and replacing our city’s parks and trails. In developing the plan, Missoula Parks and Recreation staff inventoried our park assets and improvements and cataloged their current condition. They considered industry-accepted maintenance needs and developed criteria to prioritize needs for renovation or replacement.

From there, engineers generated cost estimates for asset management operations and capital improvements, and forecast budget needs to address renovation and replacement needs over a five-year period. Finally, the Board of Park and Recreation Commission established procedures to update the Park Asset Management Plan over time.

The upshot? Just as we Missoulians need our parks to maintain our quality of life, our Missoula parks and trails need us and our commitment to ongoing care for poor or failing parks and trails features. Community park ownership means community commitment over time to replace, improve and add to our system.

The Park Asset Management Plan rated a variety of Missoula parks features and concluded that 62 of them are in need of replacement or renovation between 2015 and 2019. These include playgrounds, basketball courts, ball fields, restrooms, trailheads, irrigation systems, turf areas and more. In total, the plan identifies more than 100 park features that need to be renovated or replaced, 32 of them by the end of 2015.

If you use Missoula parks and trails, as the vast majority of both city and county residents do, you likely have experienced firsthand trails that need repair, crumbling tennis court surfaces, out-of-date play equipment or other park facilities needing attention. Clearly, many of our city’s park features are nearing the end of their useful life.

The Park Asset Management Plan sets priorities for how to begin steps to bring our parks back into tip-top shape. The priorities wisely begin with public safety and legal mandates, but also include parks’ capacities to maintain existing services, geographic equity, improved efficiently for maintenance and service, opportunities for leveraging funding opportunities, and allowance for growth. The plan also makes rightful recommendations for bringing all Missoula parks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Missoula’s parks and trails are vital to the quality of life we all enjoy in our wonderful city. The Parks Asset Management Plan is a forward-looking, reasoned plan that will help our community to maintain and improve the value of our parks.

Missoulians can review details of the management plan online at ci.missoula.mt.us/ DocumentCenter/View/24843. For questions or comments about the Park Asset Management Plan, contact park services and systems manager David Selvage at dselvage@ci.missoula.mt.us.

Mike O’Herron represents Ward 5 on the Missoula City Council.

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