STEVENSVILLE – Some Stevensville residents are opposed to a bicycle camp being built in the Lewis and Clark Park because of worries about the safety of children using the park, losing soccer field space and public property, and an ordinance they believe prohibits camping downtown.
The June 25 Stevensville Town Council meeting had a divided community and a divided vote. Council members Bill Perrin and Tim Hunter voted to have the bicycle camp in the Lewis and Clark Park and council members Robin Holcomb and Jim Crews opposed. Mayor Gene MimMack broke the tie with a vote in favor of the action.
MimMack responded from his office in downtown Stevensville on Wednesday.
“Out of the 35-40 people that fit in the room, 13 spoke against and 13 spoke for the park during the public comment period,” said MimMack. “There was division of opinion and my opinion to break the tie was sincere. I thought it progressed the goals of the municipality so I voted in favor.”
MimMack said he attended several workshops of the committee during the planning process that has been going on for over a year.
“We identified what is best for a bike camp that meets the needs of bicyclists and the Lewis and Clark Park is a strategic location and it’s our largest park,” he said.
“The issue of 'stranger danger' was answered by the demographic of who a bike camper is – all the information gathered by communities with a bike camp in Montana. These aren’t the demographics of people likely to be assaultive of children. We have more risk factors in our community and they walk about our community all the time.
“There are no guarantees – but the potential risk is low. These bicyclists are older, affluent, have invested lots of money into their equipment and are here only for a short period of time.
“I would never allow any activity that would be of danger to any child. I understand these are sincerely felt fears – but I voted for it because they aren’t based on facts of the matter.”
MimMack also said that bike camp borders can be adjusted to not infringe on the soccer field.
“Soccer players are a user of the park and we need to share the limited resource,” he said. “Boundaries just need to be adjusted – that’s the responsibility of the town and council – to make sure it all works.”
Stevensville resident Dawn Giger said the council meeting vote is against current regulations.
“It has nothing to do with the bicyclers,” said Giger. “We all said it’s all great – it’s against the location. It’s public property and they want it to be elite to them. Also, there is still an ordinance that there’s no camping in Stevensville.”
Council member Jim Crews voted against using Lewis and Clark Park for a bicycle camp.
“They are using public property and segregating it for one class of people – bicyclers,” Crews said Wednesday. “It cuts everybody else out. The use of public land for one exclusive group isn’t right – have a camping park downtown open to all campers: motorcycle riders, tent campers and motor home owners. That’s fine, but they aren’t and the park is public property.”
Crews said he felt that the people who stepped forward to express their ideas against using the Lewis and Clark Park for the bike camp were ignored.
“This isn’t how democracy works,” he said.
“If this is such a great idea why aren’t the downtown businesses supporting it? Twelve businesses at $5,000 each would be a start. Next meeting they will come asking the town to partner with their funding. Who is going to maintain it? We’re not a state park we are a local town park and if we have money let’s rebuild the swimming pool – so we can all benefit.
“I’m not against bicyclists but taking away public property from our kids is not the answer.”
Joan Prather, president of the Stevensville Downtown Association and a member of the Stevensville Bicycle Camp Committee, said she feels badly that there is conflict in the community.
“It is unfortunate, but where there is a will there is a way,” said Prather. “A good result will come. We simply need to keep open minds and explore and base our decisions on facts that are true and concentrate on educating the public to the well-established information that supports bicycle tourism.”
The Stevensville Bike Camp location is not on the agenda of the Stevensville Town Council meeting, Thursday, July 9, 7 p.m. The council can hear public comments during the public comment portion of the meeting but will not discuss or act on anything not published on their agenda.
Town Clerk Stacy Bartlett said they did receive a letter about the camp and it will be read.
“Under Montana Code Annotated the council can’t act on anything not on the agenda,” said Bartlett. “The council has to publish what they will discuss. People can come and give comment but the town council themselves can’t – it’s not on the agenda.”
MimMack said he welcomes anyone who would like to come to a council meeting and comment during the public comment portion.
“They are welcome to come and make a comment at any council meeting,” he said. “We will welcome their comment but make no discussion or decision if it is not on the agenda.”