Park Maintenance and Programs Sacrificed as Kalispell Tightens Belt

By Beacon Staff

Until city officials actually vote on a Kalispell’s budget, it’s hard to say with any certainty how lean staffing may get in some departments, and how big the cutbacks in city services might be. That is, unless you’re Mike Baker, director of Kalispell’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Baker’s not complaining. He knows the city council faces tough decisions on how to cut the city’s budget down to the bare bones, and that the police and fire departments are too vital to public safety to suffer serious cutbacks.

“Are we going to provide a kayaking class versus taking a police officer off the street?” Baker said. “It’s not even a logical question.”

But at the same time, with two full-time staff members laid off and about 18 seasonal employees that won’t be hired, Baker hopes the public is prepared for the cutbacks in park maintenance and recreational programs that are the result of the city’s budget crunch.

“Every single citizen in Kalispell is, in one way or another, impacted by what’s happening in the Parks and Recreation Department,” he said. “We haven’t ever gone through a season like the one coming up, with so few staff.”

The department has eliminated 24 of its recreational programs, about half of what it offers, including: senior citizen hiking trips, crafts for young children, a canine Frisbee program, photography classes, and bird watching trips.

The city will no longer offer a day camp for students on Christmas break, or “skip out” camps, one-day activities when kids have off from school.

“The ones we felt were expendable were the ones we cut,” Baker said.

Of the remaining high-participation programs, many will see cutbacks in the number of kids they can accommodate. The summer day camp will shrink from 120 to 70 kids. The after-school program, which takes 40 kids, will remain at current levels.

“That provides a place for latchkey kids to go,” Baker said. “It’s kind of an essential program.”

Garbage collection in the city parks will be reduced, and some garbage cans may be removed. The city won’t be planting in the large flowerpots around downtown. If a piece of playground equipment is found to be unsafe and requires extensive repairs, it will likely be removed and not replaced. Ice-skating on Woodland Pond will continue, but with less snow shoveling and ice resurfacing.

The city council planned to take up the budget again this week, and hopefully vote on the issue by the end of the month. In the meantime, Baker and his staff are preparing for winter.

“Parks and recreation are usually the first to go in crisis mode because we’re a non-essential service,” Baker said. “The times are tough and we’re going to do everything we can to keep a functional program here for the community.”