Missoula County awards matching grants to grow ice skating rink, trails

The National Museum of Forest Service History cuts the ribbon to its new facility in this file photo. The organization will expand its walking trail with matching funds provided by Missoula County. (Katy Spence/Missoula Current file photo)

Four matching grants from Missoula County’s parks program will help a number of community projects move forward under the stewardship of dedicated citizens, including an expanded ice rink in Seeley Lake and plans for a pedestrian trail in Butler Creek.

Commissioners recently award the projects funding from the county’s Parks Matching Grant program, including $7,500 to the National Museum of Forest Service History.

The funds will help expand a trail at the U.S. Forest Service complex, which includes the museum and its various displays.

“This would actually be an expansion of our current trail, which we opened in 2017,” said Lisa Tate. “It’s free of charge for the public and it’s very popular. We’ve increased attendance every year. We’d like to increase the number of exhibits and participatory experiences we have on the existing trail.”

In its latest funding round, the county also awarded $11,900 to the Butler Creek Trails Association, a neighborhood nonprofit that formed to create a shared-use path extending from Interstate 90 roughly two miles up the drainage.

Association member Travis Greenwalt said the funding would help the association design and engineer the trail. Once that’s finished, the association would work to secure easements from interested and willing landowners.

“For that two mile stretch, we’re dealing with two, maybe three landowners, depending on how the trail alignment goes,” said Greenwalt. “We have buy-in from them right now. They’ve stated their willingness to donate public easements if someone took the initiative to get the project started.”

Advocates said the narrow roadway lacks shoulders, making it unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. The design and permitting carries an estimated cost of roughly $24,000.

The association could approach the county for future funding from the trails bond once the pieces are in place.

“The Butler Creek Trails Association, as they get toward the biggest cost of construction, would probably be looking for county trails bonds for that,” said John Stegmaier, the county’s parks and trails coordinator. “But for this initial stage of planing and coming up with a trail design, they’re just looking for a smaller amount to match.”

The ROCKS program in Seeley Lake also is looking to expand its ice-skating rink, which has proven popular in the community. The program received the support of county staff, and commissioners approved the rink’s request for $10,000 in matching funds.

“That (rink) went over very, very well,” said Stegmaier. “They’re looking for funds to match and grow the size of that rink. The park board is very excited to continue seeing this winter recreation facility develop for Seeley Lake.”

Gary Swain with ROCKS, or Regional Outdoor Center for Kinetic Sports, said the expansion would add another 50 feet to the length of the rink, bringing it to roughly 65 feet by 150 feet. The rink is free to the public and is widely used by students at the elementary school.

“We keep making it more legit each year,” said Swain. “We’re adding a shed this year so kids can change inside something. We buy used skates, both figure and hockey skates, and we’re right next to the elementary school and they use it extensively.”

Commissioners also awarded $7,380 to the Friends of Two Rivers, which has spearheaded the maintenance of Hellgate Lions Park. The funding will help maintain and improve the park and its playing fields.

“It’s a wonderful asset that was created a while ago,” said park advocate Gary Matson. “A lot of what’s there is like 40 years old and is starting to wear out or is already worn out. We appreciate the county’s support in keeping that asset. We’re trying to chip away at making it the quality place it always has been.”