Flathead County’s Volunteer Park in Lakeside will nearly double in size next year, thanks to the generosity of one local couple.
Bruce Ennis and Maggie Davis originally gifted the 1.5 acres that became Volunteer Park to Flathead County in 2009, and made a subsequent contribution in 2014, providing a total of 273 feet of lakeshore frontage. In August, they announced yet another gift to the community — a parcel slightly under 2.5 acres directly north of the park’s current location that will include a large, grassy area, docks and multiple pavilions.
On Dec. 2 the Flathead County Weed, Parks and Recreation Board met at the Lakeside Quick Response Unit for a public review and comment period to hear ideas, questions and concerns from local residents. Ennis and Davis also shared an updated design for the new park that will include the replacement of wooden docks for ones on metal pilings and plans to remove inappropriate fill from the lakeshore, such as asphalt, and replace it with a dynamic equilibrium beach. The park is being designed by landscape architect Bruce Boody and his associate, landscape designer Carolyn Mulnix.
The sidewalk, curb and gutter that runs along the edge of the park would also be continued on the new park boundary. Finally, the new portion of Volunteer Park will also feature a 54-space parking lot in the northwest corner, including three handicapped spots, up from the previously planned 41 spaces. A second entrance and crosswalk will be located across from the Post Office, according to park design plans.
The new acreage will offer three pavilions. They will be available to rent by members of the public, and those fees will then help fund park maintenance. Jed Fisher, director of the Flathead County Department of Parks and Recreation, said annual maintenance currently hovers between $12,000 and 14,000 for Volunteer Park, which he expects will double once the expansion is completed.
“We are very concerned with maintenance and ease of maintenance,” Davis said. Once she and Ennis develop the park, they plan to gift the land to the county. While they received many ideas from the public for additions to the park, many were eliminated from consideration since their upkeep could burden the county with maintenance costs.
Members of the public discussed safety concerns related to roadway speed limits, along with the possibility of adding pickleball courts to the park. However, Davis said, the courts were ultimately determined to be a better fit at Lakeside’s Ben Williams Park, which is already home to other court sports, rather than eat up valuable lakefront square footage.
“That really wasn’t feasible for Volunteer Park because public lake access is such a rare commodity,” Davis explained. “It would take a lot of square footage — you can’t just have one pickleball court.”
David Roberts, the business manager for the Waterside Condominiums that border the new half of the park to the north, brought up a number of concerns about ensuring the privacy of condominium tenants. He was especially opposed to plans to replace the existing dock that borders the condos, and suggested rip rap as an alternative because it would “create a barrier that is more difficult to walk on.”
“The dock is right next to the Waterside dock, where all of the Waterside residents keep their boats,” Roberts said. “Now I think we can all agree that not everyone is as respectful as all of us in this room of other people’s property and that could definitely be a problem.”
However, Davis said rip rap wouldn’t be in compliance with lakeshore regulations, but she hopes the new railed dock will serve as a barrier between the condos and the park.
“We are going to have a railing on the dock that will be on the expansion’s north boundary. That dock will also function as a way … to keep gravels from filling up their marina,” Davis told the Daily Inter Lake. “It’s just one of those things where you just try to figure out what’s going to work best for each party.”
Transformation of the new site is already underway — a pair of houses contaminated with asbestos have been demolished and plans are in place to relocate several other structures. A building that once housed a real estate office on U.S. 93 likely will remain on-site and will be gifted to the West Shore Community Library, pending county approval. Ennis and Davis signed a preliminary property transfer agreement with the county in August in preparation to transfer the land, and if the building is gifted to the library, that would reduce the size of the originally agreed upon parcel.
The West Shore Community Library is a volunteer operation that’s been in operation for 24 years and is currently based out of the Lakeside Business Center on Bierney Creek Road. Its largest annual expense is rent — to the tune of $26,400 — which would go away should they move into the former real estate office building. Library volunteers spend hundreds of hours on fundraising activities, which could be diverted to other activities should their new home come to fruition.
“They would receive the building and the land it sits on as a donation to the West Shore Community Library, with a restricted deed,” Davis said. “That’s the plan today.”
Looking forward, Davis hopes the new addition to Volunteer Park will be open for public use in the fall of 2020.
“The big contingency is some serious permitting on the lakeshore,” she said, which has to be obtained to construct the new docks and beach. “That’s going to call for some ordinary permits and also some variance permits and the variance ones are a little more demanding. Folks from our team have met with the planning board and things are on track.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.