Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With an eye on population growth and new development, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday approved a $250,000 contract with a consultant to bring the parks, recreation, open space and trails master plan into the modern age.

Ryan Applegate, assistant director of parks and recreation, said the contract with BluePoint Planning Inc. will update the last master plan adopted in 2004.

“It has served us really well. It was a 20-year plan and that plan has led us in really positive directions,” said Applegate. “We're a different city than we were 20 years ago.”

The process began in April after the city received six qualified proposals. A team reviewed the submissions and ultimately selected BluePoint to complete the process.

The plan is expected to guide the city's parks and recreation needs through the next 15 years. Among other things, Applegate said it will analyze current demographics and trends, gaps in services and recommend ways to implement new action plans.

“It will guide our city in future comprehensive planning for all aspects of our parks and recreation department,” he said. “They'll give us what we foresee as an adopted issue plan to the growth policy to help parks and recreation move into the next 10 to 15 years.”

The impending parks plan will play out alongside a litany of other planning efforts that are currently underway. That includes a long-range transportation plan, efforts to update the city's development codes, reforms to parking codes, and an update to the growth policy.

“Our parks master plan is definitely in need of an update, and I think we're in a unique position right now with all the planning efforts that are taking place,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “We have zoning, transportation, transit and parking. I think all these things come together to help us guide intentional growth and development in the community.”

The new parks plan will also consider population projections. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city's population stands at roughly 80,000 people, up from 73,000 three years ago. Growth in certain portions of the city, including the greater Mullan area and the South Hills, are expected to accommodate thousands of new households over the coming years.

“When we look back 20 years from now, the question about percentage of population growth is going to be one that's shocking,” said council member Amber Sherrill. “Having plans for that growth is being responsible for our community and making it what we want to see in the future.”