Kalispell Takes Step Forward in Expanding Lawrence Park Trail System

City plans to add project, located in 56-acre undeveloped area adjacent to park, to preliminary budget for next fiscal year

By Maggie Dresser
Finley Styler, 2, plays on the swings at Lawrence Park in Kalispell on March 11, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The City of Kalispell is moving forward to potentially expand the Lawrence Park trail system as officials plan to add the almost $25,000 installation cost to the preliminary budget, following a council work session on March 8.

The proposed 2,886-foot extension would be the second phase of the trail loop, where 2,585 feet of trail has already been built on the northern end in response to complaints of transient activity in the 56-acre park in 2017.

Kalispell Parks and Recreation installed the first phase of the nature trail over a period of two years following the complaints. In a partnership with Montana Conservation Corps (MCC), Boy Scouts of America, community volunteers and an Applied Materials grant, the trail now gives staff access to remove transient camps and dumpsites while providing public access to the trail.

“We didn’t have park funds tied to the program,” Parks and Recreation Director Chad Fincher said. “(But) we did run short both with the MCC crew and funds to do that last major loop.”

The proposed second phase would entail two weeks of labor through MCC, the installation of six bridges, four informational signs, four benches, three trashcans and continued maintenance.

“We did envision using that area for the public and creating nature trails for that area that would be done over time,” City Manager Doug Russell said. “So that was our initial plan from the beginning.”

The City of Kalispell first acquired the additional 16 acres of undeveloped property adjacent to Lawrence Park from Knife River in 2017, which was then added to the area to total 56 acres.

Following the trail’s first phase, which encompassed the northern section, Russell says the trail addressed the transient issue and officials no longer find encampments in that area.

But after a social media post with a photo of used syringes found in the southern portion of Lawrence Park last fall triggered a homeless population and drug use discussion, Russell reassured the public that needle use is uncommon in the park.

“We actually see very little needle use,” he said. “But we do see transient activity, which is a component of that complaint.”  

Despite the trail’s effectiveness in deterring transient populations, Councilor Kyle Waterman suggested discussing the general issue of homelessness at a future work session.

“If we don’t find ways to connect them to services, they do find a way to our parks,” Waterman said.

While city officials support the trail extension, Councilor Ryan Hunter voiced concern about the wildlife habitat in the area, which encompasses a unique wetland in an urban setting. He mentioned members of the Audubon Society reached out and wanted to be involved in further discussions.

Kalispell resident David Landstrom, a property owner bordering the park’s southern perimeter, also expressed concern about the wildlife habitat and wondered what long-term maintenance of the trail would like and if the council had plans to reach out to the park’s neighbors.

“I’ve lived there for 14 years and I’m intimately familiar with that acreage … There’s amazing wildlife value for such a small footprint within city limits,” Landstrom said. “My first question has to do with overall management strategy of this trail system.”

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