The city of Helena held a forum Tuesday night so residents could provide feedback on a new working plan for parks.
The Helena Open Lands Management Advisory Committee provides an annual plan to discern what aspects and areas of Helena’s extensive parks system need to be attended to or improved.
Helena’s trails are an important part of the city’s character, as a five minute drive or walk gets most residents to a trailhead somewhere in the South Hills. Prickly Pear Land Trust is planning to provide some usual and unusual maintenance to the trail systems on Mount Ascension and Mount Helena, repairing pedestrian traffic damage and removing tree limbs and stumps encroaching on certain trails.
Around 20 people squeezed into a small conference room at the City-County building to comment about what and how the plan should be changed. A large amount of comments requested that the city not remove the mountain bike jumps on the Davis Gulch Road Trail. Those jumps will not be moved or changed until the city completes a review sometime this next year.
Mountain biking and hiking are staples of the summer months in Helena.
The patchwork aspects of land ownership and stewardship in the Helena area are on full display in the plan, as it incorporates state, federal, city and nonprofit goals while looking to fashion a plan that doesn’t step on anybody’s toes. In one instance, new fencing will be added to separate private property from open space on the Little Moab Trail, where the property lines are not currently specifically demarcated.
McKelvey Trail is the prime example for the unusual aspects of open land and trails management, as it begins on city land and moves to U.S. Forest Service land and back again multiple times, complicating maintenance and planning.
As many may have noticed Tuesday, fuel burning and controlled burns on Mount Helena and Mount Ascension are an important part of the HOLMAC work plan. The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is looking to burn 20 acres of slash on Mount Ascension and Mount Helena, with another 160 acres of “fuel treatment work” on both mountainous city parks.
Invasive species control is also part of the work plan. Helena uses insect warfare to remove invasive plants like Dalmation Toadflax, Leafy Spurge and spotted knapweed from open areas.
A brief conversation addressed the expense of plastic bags for dog poop removal set up at parks through the city, which interim city parks and recreation Director Craig Marr said cost over $18,000 annually. Currently, “Mutt Mitts” cost the city about 8 cents per baggie, and changing to a cheaper alternative would force a change in dispensers.
“We go through about three pallets per year,” Marr said of the Mitts.
The meeting and public-facing nature of Tuesday’s event is part of the city’s new strategy to engage the public, especially after last year’s Beattie Street Trailhead struggles that left many residents feeling like they were not heard.
“Our main mission is to get the public on board with our vision,” Marr said. “That’s why we have the public process.”
Marr said while not everybody will be happy when it came to decisions, he believed the city was doing a “better job of informing the public” about new decisions and strategic choices.
Eric Sivers, a citizen representative to HOLMAC, said the public comment period allows other ideas that the committee might not have considered percolate to their eyes and ears.
“We have a better chance of capturing more solutions,” Sivers said.