Bancroft Ponds Natural Area to serve as outdoor classroom, birds included

An outdoor classroom at the Bancroft Ponds Natural Area will follow a flat amphitheater design with 18 stone benches. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

A popular Missoula park will get a subtle makeover with natural stone and some TLC as more students take to the outdoors as part of their schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once the work is completed, the Bancroft Ponds Natural Area will serve as a formal gathering space for students visiting from nearby schools like Russell and Lewis And Clark elementary.

“One thing we’ve heard loud and clear recently from the schools and from the folks who are doing programming within the park is that there’s really not a suitable place to bring students in the park, sit them all down, get them all organized and then move from there,” Morgan Valiant, Missoula conservation lands manager, said.

The addition to the park was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Parks & Recreation Board. The Lewis and Clark neighborhood will fund the work through a combination of grants and donations.

The outdoor classroom will follow a flat amphitheater design with 18 stone benches.

John Conner, a neighbor of the area and one of the leaders of the plan, said the project has been a goal for years, and they’ve continued to see support. They want to make it an area where the amphitheater serves well as a classroom, but also is natural and unobtrusive.

“With the height of the grass, you will have to be just about on top of it, until “oh, what’s this?” and we think that meets the goals we have,” Conner said.

The park is near the intersection of 34th Street and Bancroft Street. Valiant said the “incredibly loved” park gets the most use from educators and other nonprofit organizations that have students learn about native and non-native plants in the area.

Also approved by the Parks and Recreation Board was a Glacial Lake Missoula stone marking the high water mark after glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age. The stone will be set upon the South Hills outlook.

Valiant said since placing several of the stones on other trails years ago they have been very well received.