BILLINGS — The Yellowstone River Parks Association volunteers have been hard at work at the John H Dover Memorial Park in the Billings Heights for decades, but in the last 10 years, immense progress has been made.
“From when I was here 10 years ago, there was nothing here. We were still taking down barbed wire fence,” said YRPA member Kris Schmidt on Wednesday.
The park currently has around 140 acres of land for public use that the volunteers maintain.
“Maintaining access to the Yellowstone River for the public, I was really interested in that because I had come from Florida where it’s very difficult to get public access,” said the caretaker of the park, Jill Hickson.
Hickson has been with YRPA since 2019, while she may not be the longest-serving volunteer in the organization's 30-year history, she loves living at the park and seeing the progress being made.
The organization held a ribbon cutting earlier this month to open the activity center. In the last few years, they have added trails and seating areas around the park.
“We run on volunteers, and the only way that this happens is because of the generous contributions of our community,” said the park manager Carolyn Sevier. “Those volunteers, pretty consistently over the entire three decades have put in about 8,000 hours of time.”
There is more work ahead of the volunteers in the upcoming years because the park’s about to get bigger. The expansion is thanks to a donation from a private landowner, coupled with funding from ExxonMobil's settlement from the 2011 Silvertip pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River, to purchase the original John H Dover homestead. The park will grow to 600 acres in a few years.
"It's kind of overwhelming. It's a lot of property. A lot of work needs to be done, but it's so exciting to be a part of it," Schmidt said.