Preserve Our Parks Great Falls Promotes City Park District
Parents, grandparents, young professionals, businesses owners and retirees have joined to form
Preserve Our Parks, a group of volunteers working to pass the City of Great Falls’ upcoming park district
Like every Great Falls resident, these volunteers live near city parks and like most voters are trail and
park users. They’ve witnessed parks go dry, trees left untrimmed, sports courts and trails crumble, and
bathrooms at parks and pools become barely usable.
The city put together a Park and Recreation Master Plan that identified $12.6 million in deferred
maintenance – items that should have been addressed, but for which there was no money. To start
chipping away at those items, voters have the opportunity May 8 to pass a park district.
The district would generate $1.5 million in taxes each year to be used specifically on parks. For the
owner of an average-valued home in Great Falls ($150,000), the park district would mean an additional
$2.88 per month.
“A city survey of parks showed that eight in 10 residents visited our parks last year,” said Erin
Merchant, spokesperson for Preserve Our Parks. “I am one of them! I visit the trail or one of our parks
almost every day. It is one of my favorite pass times that started as I grew up in Great Falls. Some of my
fondest memories are feeding the geese and Gibson Park or walking to Water Tower park to either swim
or play hide and seek. I want my daughter to have that same opportunity.”
Merchant said the park group members appreciate that city founder Paris Gibson specifically
designed Great Falls to be a city of parks. But they have been dismayed that tight city budgets have left
some parks and city trees in disrepair to the point of being a liability.
The industry standard for tree trimming, for example, is every four to seven years. Great Falls trees
are trimmed on a 30- to 35-year cycle. Park district funds would start to lower that cycle. Many city
parks also fail to meet American with Disabilities Act standards for restrooms; that would also be
addressed by the funds.
If the park district fails to pass, park officials will have to make tough decisions of what services to
cut. That could mean closing deteriorating tennis/sports courts, leaving trails unmaintained, doing only
emergency repairs at bathrooms, and forgoing watering and other maintenance at neighborhood parks.
There is also concern that these issues will pose safety and liability risks for the city and taxpayers.
“We have this wonderful inventory of neighborhood parks, and they’re just not getting the attention
they deserve,” Merchant said.
To kick off its formation, Preserve Our Parks Great Falls is holding a park photo contest and a
drawing contest. The photo contest will include both youth and adult divisions. Prizes will include a
Great Falls “Stay-cation” and gift certificates to local businesses. The children’s drawing contest prizes
will be a packet of tickets to the Electric City Water Park. Details are available at
The group’s web site has more information on the needs of neighborhood parks, a tax calculator to
determine the cost to individual property owners, a Frequently Asked Questions section and a link to
volunteer. Preserve Our Parks Great Falls is also on Facebook and Instagram.
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