People walk in a maze
Bruce Mulhbradt

Inside Bozeman's a-maze-ing new park

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Last month, we threw a great big party to celebrate the grand opening of the brand new Story Mill Community Park in Bozeman, Montana. The day marked the end of a many-year effort to create the coolest park the city has ever seen … and the beginning of a new era for play, exercise, learning, and connecting with nature.

We’re proud to be part of a great team of Bozeman locals and donors from across the country who gave their time, skills, money, and good ideas to make this vision a reality. So we asked a few of our friends in town what they’re most excited about at Bozeman’s new flagship park.

A windmill sculpture in front of trees and mountainsThe new 60-acre Story Mill Community Park has something for everyone.Photo credit: Bruce Mulhbradt

“Story Mill Community Park is a confluence between a park as a community gathering place and a park as an ecological preserve. If parks are expressions of local culture, Story Mill expresses Montana’s culture very well.”

– Pat Byorth, fisheries biologist and river restoration expert

Story Mill Community Park sits at the confluence of Bozeman Creek and the East Gallatin River. For much of the past hundred years, these two streams have been forced through culverts, concrete, and rip-rap, and plagued with pollution. That’s made them inhospitable to fish and wildlife, and downright dangerous for people. But once the community decided to create a park at Story Mill, local biologists and engineers saw an opportunity to undo the effects of industrialization, restore the naturally meandering streams, and regenerate acres of wetlands. “That’s the beauty of Story Mill,” says Pat Byorth, a member of the team that restored the rivers. “It’s a playground and a place for people to meet, but it’s integrated with the natural world and wildlife. It’s the ideal of what life in Montana is—and the way we hope it stays.”

A mom and two daughters play in a creekA generation ago, nobody wanted to play in the channelized, polluted waters at the confluence of the East Gallatin River and Bozeman Creek. Following a big restoration, the rivers are running wild and clean, welcoming for fish, wildlife, and people.Photo credit: Tom Robertson

“The stronger our community is, and the more things people have to do, the better it is for our company. It means a healthier and more talented workforce, and that’s so important to our business.”

– Spencer Williams, small business owner and dog dad

Bozeman is a dog town. “Everywhere we go to hike, ski, fish, ride bikes, whatever—you’re going to see a lot of happy dogs with their people,” says Spencer Williams. He’s CEO of West Paw Inc., a Bozeman-based company that makes pet products. So when Williams heard about Story Mill Community Park, he wanted to make sure his four-legged friends had a place to play as well. The company made a donation to construct a 1-acre off-leash dog run at the park. Williams says he’s happy his dog, a four-year-old mid-sized poodle named Niko, will have more room to roam close to home—and that having places like Story Mill Community Park in Bozeman is a boost to local businesses like his.

A family walks three dogs on a leash on a forested trailA one-acre off-leash dog run gives pups a place to roam free in the city, and miles of trails await on-leash exploration.Photo credit: Tom Robertson

“This park is all about alternative: from the climbing boulder to the ropes course to the nature play area, I don’t even think there’s one element to this place that you’ve ever seen before at any other park.”

– Whit Magro, rock climber and boulder-builder

Surrounded by big, rugged mountains, Bozeman is a magnet for gravity-sport enthusiasts like skiers, rock climbers, and mountain bikers. So it makes sense that resident would bring that adventurous spirit into town at Story Mill Park. Case in point: the hulking climbing structure from Stronghold Fabrication, a Bozeman-based company that builds custom climbing boulders. The new one at Story Mill is one of a growing series of climbing areas that dot parks and plazas throughout town. “The Bozeman Boulder Project makes it so everyone can get introduced to the joys of this sport, even if you don’t have access to a car to get out to some of the crags outside of town,” says Whit Magro, a pro climber and co-owner of Stronghold Fabrication.

People climb on a constructed climbing boulderThe Story Mill Boulder is one of a handful that Whit Magro has helped create around Bozeman, part of a project to make rock climbing more accessible to everyone in town.Photo credit: Bruce Mulhbradt

“Our kids, once they get in that garden, and they’ve planted it, then they want to brag about it. They want to bring their families and show off what they’ve grown. The benefits of that are almost hard to measure.”

– Jill Holder, gardener and food security expert

The wide Gallatin Valley is the breadbasket of Montana. (Story Mill Community Park takes its name from the historic flour mill on site, owned and operated by Nelson Story. He was an early Bozeman resident and one of the real-life inspirations behind Larry McMurtry’s classic novel Lonesome Dove.) Though they live in one of the most productive agricultural regions in the state, today many Bozeman residents struggle with food insecurity. “We all need parks, but when you look at all the places we plant grass in this country, we wanted to make a case that food could be growing in some of these places instead,” says Jill Holder, operations manager for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. So Jill’s team got creative with the opportunity to honor the land’s agricultural legacy, and demonstrate the value of local, healthy agriculture. The result? A big, vibrant community garden where local youth organizations can raise their own crops and learn first-hand where food comes from.

Two men plant starts in a garden at Story Mill Community ParkThe garden at Story Mill Park is a place for local youth organizations to teach kids about the Gallatin Valley's agricultural past, and to learn about gardening and food production.Photo credit: Bruce Mulhbradt

“Story Mill is just a really good combination of healthy open space, the opportunity to get exercise, get involved in serving your community through gardening, and enjoying the outdoors,” says Holder. “I hope you can come see it. It’s such a beautiful park.”

Whether or not you’re able to take Jill up on the offer to visit Story Mill Park, we hope you take a moment to pat yourself on the back! We’re proud of every place like Story Mill Community Park—and we couldn’t do it without your support. Thank you!

Comments

E Vogt
I love the park Bozeman has created. You had the scenic beauty already and by cleaning up the water and incorporating something for everyone is wonderful. Clean water and teaching the kids how rewarding it is to grow food is so awesome. I hope the rest of the country can be inspired by this project and create their own parks.
Baxter Moyer
Keeping posted.
Trish Roberts
What an innovative and exciting way to go! If we can’t count on government to protect lands, we need to do it ourselves!

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