The final fundraising push is about to get underway for the remaining $30,000 needed to complete the acquisition of 70 acres adjacent to Hamilton’s River Park that will eventually offer the public access to 1.5-miles of the Bitterroot River.
The Bitter Root Land Trust will launch the monthlong effort Wednesday, May 1, at its office at 170 S. Second St. with an overview presentation of the Skalkaho Bend Park at 10 a.m. The event will includes a video and breakfast treats donated by Hamilton’s Mine Shaft Restaurant.
A Giving Tree made by the Darby High School shop class with materials donated by Don’s Home Center will also be unveiled at the event that will be followed by an open house through 6 p.m.
“The tree is so emblematic of this park and whole project,” said Bitter Root Land Trust executive director Gavin Ricklefs. “It’s been all hands on deck. We’ve been getting help from all sorts of different places. Sometimes those places have been unexpected.
“It’s just like everybody seems to find some way to help,” he said. “That’s what has been necessary to make it possible. It’s been nice to be at the center of all of that and see the enthusiasm that everyone has for the idea of this new park.”
After receiving a bridge financing package from The Conservation Fund a year and a half ago, the land trust has raised about $700,000 from individuals, private foundations, local and state conservation organizations and Ravalli County’s Open Lands Program.
Even before Wednesday official start of the final fundraising push, Ricklefs said community members have already started to step forward to offer donations both large and small.
“That’s really been encouraging,” he said. “It is going to take some more money to finalize the purchase and then we can turn our attention to ensure the park is ready to transition over the city and into public hands. I think that will happen this fall.”
A number of different organizations and individuals have stepped forward to offer a variety of activities through May, ranging from a veteran’s walk to a Bitterroot Audubon nighttime adventure learning about bats to a relaxing evening of yoga along the banks of the Bitterroot.
“What’s wonderful about this natural park is that it's what brings us all together,” said the Land Trust’s Emy Royce. “The land is the place that brings people of all walks of life together. They can experience healing. They can experience joy. They can experience friendship. Whether it’s going for a walk along the river to relieve stress or spend time with friends or maybe they just want some alone time and watch some wildlife. They can reconnect with nature. It offers so much.”
The events in May provide people an opportunity to experience that.
“Whether it’s our partnership with Bitterroot Audubon and their education about the different kinds of birds you can see out there or it’s the yoga evening where people can have a really relaxing time in a natural setting, all the partnerships highlight why it is we are protecting this place,” Royce said.
The motto for the fundraising effort is “Create Your Path. Create Your Park.”
The Land Trust’s Lauren Rennaker said the fact the new park will be enjoyed in so many different ways is important.
“It’s for everybody no matter what walk of life or what path you’re on,” Rennaker said. “This was something we felt really strongly about when creating all these activities with our partners. We wanted to have a really diverse cross-section of people to come out and enjoy the park.”
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From the beginning, Royce said this project has been about building community.
“That’s why we’re asking the community to be the one who makes this happen,” Royce said. “They have ownership in this. It is for all of us. It’s not possible to accomplish something so big without the community standing behind it and helping their fellow community members to have a place like this.
“They can know that future generations will be able to have the same experiences that they’ve been able to enjoy here, whether it’s catching that first fish or identifying a woodpecker for the first time, or seeing our famous moose family down there,” she said.
“It’s a great connection point,” Ricklefs said. “It’s the reason we all live here. Independent of all our own individualism and different perspectives, one thing that we all share is that connection to the Bitterroot Valley and its land and water. That’s why it’s important that his park will be here for future generations so they can share that connection too.”
The events at the proposed park include:
• May 8, 5:30–6:30 p.m., Veterans’ Walk with Dan Kimzey (open to veterans and their families). Veterans finding friendship and relieving stress.
• May 9, 7:30 p.m., Birds and Bats with Kate Stone from Bitterroot Audubon will host a nature walk on birds and bats at the park.
• May 12, 5–6 p.m., Emma’s House “Oula Nature Dancing” for moms to celebrate Mother's Day with Val Widmer.
• May 16, 5-6 p.m., Evening Yoga at Skalkaho Bend. Connect with nature and relieve stress through gentle guided yoga stretching with Inspansion Yoga’s Pam Watts. All ages are invited.
• May 22, 6-7 p.m., Evening bike ride at Skalkaho Bend Park: Bike-Walk Bitterroot hosts a casual bike ride through the park with Matthew Rohrback.
• May 23, 5:30–6:30 p.m., Walk and Talk with MSU Extension at Skalkaho Bend nature walk and learn more about the new park and MSU’s wellness program with Katelyn Anderson.
• May 23, 5–8 p.m., Cocktails for Skalkaho Bend Park at Westslope Distillery with Susan Young/Jesse Trauth. A portion of proceeds from the evening will help create the new park.
• May 29/30 5–6 p.m. (date TBD), Heartism hosts nature-based play for children with autism, and young adults and their families at Skalkaho Bend Park (for families with autism) with Jessica Fitzpatrick.
Call the Bitter Root Land Trust office at 406-375-0956 or visit our website, www.bitterrootlandtrust.org for more information, including the meeting location for May’s events.