A Fresh Start at the ‘Back Back’ Park

By Beacon Staff

In place of charred debris is a community picnic area and garden. A small library is perched at the front gate of the white picket fence, welcoming anyone to take a book and come inside for a peaceful read in the shade.

The quiet property that’s nestled between homes at 725 Ninth Ave. W. in Kalispell has undergone a rebirth in the last year.

In the early hours of March 9, 2012, an explosion shook the neighborhood and leveled the house and small garage near the heart of town. Investigators determined the home’s owner, 57-year-old John Jeffery Parsons, intentionally set the house on fire in an act of suicide.

What remained in the aftermath was the ashen, empty lot, a bleak reminder of that spring day.

Shelley Jo Isaak and her husband, Lance, decided to change that.

They purchased the adjacent property and began cleaning up the debris. Within a few months, it was transformed into a small park open to everyone. They call it the “Back Back.”

“We wanted to make it into something positive. That experience was really traumatic for a lot of people in my neighborhood,” said Shelley Jo, who was a longtime friend and neighbor of Parsons’. “I wanted to make it a space that people could use and I wanted to bring our neighborhood together a little bit more.”

The Back Back features a small library with donated books for children and adults and places to sit throughout the yard. Shelley Jo and Lance also gathered supplies and built a large outdoor pizza oven out of clay and sand. The oven is big enough to fit five pizzas at a time, and it’s already been used for several community gatherings where neighbors have brought their own toppings.

“It gives us a common space to get to know each other,” Shelley Jo said.

There’s also a new garden in the back of the property where vegetables and flowers have taken root. Along with a small cross, the garden directly pays homage to Parsons, who enjoyed the outdoors and gardening.

“We do feel like it honors John,” she said.

Since last summer, the Back Back has received a warm welcome by the neighbors.

“Everyday there’s people stopping by, or I’ll look and see kids in there,” she said.

Alice Blond, who lives next door to the park, also remembers that tragic day a year ago. She also remembers when Shelley Jo mentioned the idea of recreating the site.

“I thought it would be nice. We’ve enjoyed being next door. The garden is wonderful,” Blond said. “It’s nice to turn something that was bad into something good, something happy and fun.”

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