A packed house led to dozens of questions as 50 people showed up to see the unveiling of possible plans for Helena's Beattie Street Trailhead expansion during an open house Tuesday evening.
The city's Parks and Recreation Director Amy Teegarden, Open Lands Manager Brad Langsather and city engineer Ryan Leland gave a short presentation about Mt. Ascension’s high rate of use and plans to expand other trailheads in the Open Lands system before answering dozens of questions from the citizens gathered in the City County Building.
A major part of the message was that Parks, Open Lands and the city were not only working on Beattie Street, but on expanding the use of open lands at all access points.
“We’re trying to improve trailheads throughout the open lands system,” Langsather said. “We’re not trying to improve just Beattie, we’re trying to increase the value of all trailheads.”
The Beattie Street Trailhead is one of the city’s most popular access points to open lands, and is the most popular access point to Mt. Ascension. City officials said parking management is becoming more important as traffic to the area grows. Officials also said recent residential growth in the area highlights the need to relocate parking, bathrooms, tables and trash cans farther south on city park property.
Teegarden said the planned pit toilet, information kiosk, trash cans and other additions were part of a “core of amenities” that make trailheads usable and useful for residents.
The first design provides 24 parking spaces and two handicapped-accessible spaces, has all-gravel surfaces except for the accessible spaces, and would be just beyond where the trailhead currently sits.
The second design has 30 spaces and two handicapped-accessible spaces and would be much farther into the trees, accessible by a two-lane road.
Leland said that either option, or perhaps another option down the line, would take about a year or two to build depending on funding, though the city has yet to release numbers on the amount it would cost to build either parking lot option. The project will be funded through reserves and grants, Teegarden said, but those amounts will depend on what the final project looks like.
Helena citizens started firing questions after the opening presentation. The topics ranged from Americans with Disabilities compliance issues, to noise, to vandalism, to why the Shooting Range trailhead wasn’t seen as an option as citizens worried about potential changes to the space around their neighborhood.
Some worried about the pit toilet being used by transients while others were unsure if the toilet would cause smell issues. Resident Eric Grove said that a pit toilet would be a good thing, as he can see people urinating and has a Labrador “that manages to find the most disgusting things, so I can say people do other things up there too.”
Traffic was one of the main concerns for residents. Cheri Thornton said that she had been in an accident with her daughter just off Chaucer Street and was frightened about the possibility that more traffic near the trailhead could severely injure or kill a child.
Leland said that traffic was being taken into account, but that it depends on the data the city has on hand to make those decisions. A fuller data set of traffic on Beattie Street will be collected this summer, according to Leland, which can tell residents more about potential impacts of traffic.
Resident Nick Sovner said that residents who are questioning the parking lot “don’t want control of the situation, we just want to be included.”
Sovner is frustrated with the way the city has gone about planning. The city did not notify residents about potential plans and moving forward with a grant application for a pit toilet at the Beattie Street trailhead that the city later received.
“We just want a seat at the table,” Sovner said. “It’s very important to us to maintain access to the trailhead, limiting access has never been on the table.”
Access was the issue clearly at stake. Eric Sivers from the Helena Open Lands Management Advisory Committee said that the organization’s goal is to look at how to provide the most access for all visitors to the Helena area.
“People who live across town, the people in the North Valley who come to recreate here,” Sivers said. “It’s improving management of the open lands system.”
He said the reaction to the Beattie Street trailhead was new.
“I’m not sure there was any public comment for the Mt. Helena trailhead,” Sivers said.
“People are motivated by their passions,” Sivers said. “They show up.”
Residents can make comments on the city’s website at http://www.helenamt.gov/commission/contact-mayor-commission.html.