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On behalf of Citizens for Parks and Trails, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to Missoula County voters for approving the Missoula County Parks and Trails bond. The 20-year bond will fix our aging city parks and playgrounds, invest in a new county trails program, and begin construction of the long-awaited Fort Missoula Regional Park.

This investment in our quality of life will lead to new opportunities for healthy physical activity for people of all ages, while generating new economic activity in the area. It’s yet another positive step forward that we are taking as a community to ensure we all have a great place to live and work.

Now that the bond measure has been approved, the city of Missoula and Missoula County will begin implementing the bond’s three components.

First, Missoula Parks and Recreation has posted a request for qualifications for a landscape architect for playgrounds. Many of our neighborhood city parks and playgrounds were built more than 30 years ago and are in need of upgrades to meet modern safety standards. The result will be better active-play opportunities for our children. This is important because studies show that the kind of free, spontaneous play that occurs on playgrounds is the most beneficial type of play for kids: they grow healthier and perform better in school. Parks and Rec staff hopes to review responses from the top firms later this month.

The city and county are also preparing to solicit proposals for a design team for Fort Missoula Regional Park, with plans to approve a contract by early February. The new regional park will replace the existing athletic facilities with 11 rectangular, multi-use fields that can be rotated to minimize wear and seven new tournament-quality softball fields. There will be up to 10 kilometers of trails for all ages and abilities that interconnect with existing trail systems, a large pavilion, picnic shelters, open space, new playgrounds and much more, making this a truly incredible regional park. The design theme will honor and enhance the historical era of Fort Missoula. The new sports fields will allow Missoula to host tournaments that we can’t right now, potentially generating millions of dollars in new visitor spending that will ripple through the local economy. A public process for general comments and feedback on the park will likely commence in the spring of 2015, in hope of getting started during next summer’s construction season.

Finally, Missoula County will start working with county partners on an enhanced trails program early next year. The program will include criteria for trails projects and opportunities for the public to submit favorite trail ideas. The $3 million designated for trails in the bond will be used as a local match for federal and other funds and may leverage as much as $15 million in additional monies to better connect communities via trail, and to provide better access to public land.

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Previous generations of Missoulians have invested in our city and county. They purchased open space. They created and protected access to our rivers. They built our schools, our swimming pools, and the existing parks and trails from which we all derive incalculable benefits. Now we have taken our turn to do our part and leave Missoula County better, healthier and more prosperous than the way we found it.

We hope Missoula residents are as excited as we are about the passage of the bond and the initial steps already being taken by the city and the county. To the voters we exuberantly say “thank you,” and offer a toast to better health and play for our county. As things progress over the coming year, please stay involved and up to date by visiting missoulaparks.org and co.missoula.mt.us/mccaps/Parks.htm.

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Michael Caldwell and Phil Gardner are practicing physicians in Missoula and serve as co-treasurers for Citizens for Park and Trails.

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