BILLINGS — North Park is under construction as the city adds a new playground and a plethora of other activities to the space. In recent years, the park has seen an increase in crime, and the city is working to revive the area.
If you’ve driven down Sixth Avenue North lately, you’ve probably noticed the construction.
“North Park, for this part of town, is a community park," said Cole McQuillan, the parks superintendent for Billings Parks and Recreation, on Friday. "So we’re trying to draw people back into it and activate it."
Big changes are underway.
“We’ve been told that there’s going to be some more events for the area, for the people who live in this area," said Lee Ebden, a Billings resident, on Friday. "The developments I think are very positive, for sure."
Ebden has lived across from North Park for the past nine years and has noticed the park attracts a worse crowd than originally intended.
"Some of the foot traffic that is not so desirable, that is also an issue here. Definitely,” Ebden said.
Billings Parks and Recreation also noticed the park’s decline, which is why it started this project to breathe new life back into the park.
"Everyone in this community will notice a big change and a big impact for the positive,” McQuillan said. "If you haven’t been here for awhile, when you come back, you’ll notice a big change."
It all started with plans for a new playground and the removal of the previous 20-year-old equipment.
"Hopefully we’ll have all of that wrapped up, you know, before the kids are out of school this spring,” McQuillan said.
A dog park and disc golf area are also planned on top of increased lighting and a new shelter. A Billings first will also be introduced.
"New adult exercise equipment. So it’s really the first of its kind in the city park system. And so that’s actually almost installed completely,” said McQuillan.
The bathrooms were recently redone.
"Right after Christmas before New Year's, we had a new bathroom craned in. It was a pre-fabricated bathroom, all concrete, built off-site in two pieces, and then they bring it in in two truckloads. And assemble it with a crane onsite," McQuillan said. "We (demolished) the old, existing bathroom last fall after we winterized and closed up for the season. And then our contractor prepped the site, did all the utilities, and we’re in the process of finalizing the hookups."
But wait— there's more:
"We got new ADA sidewalks poured that match up to the existing sidewalks," said McQuillan. “There’s multiple things happening, and that’s all just what we started within the last six months. And so we’re trying to tie everything together, and hopefully we’d have it all put back together come springtime."
It’s all thanks to the Parks Capital Improvement Plan, community development grants, and the East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD).
“For the playground, (that) was approved (for) the Parks Capital Improvement Plan. So every year, we submit projects that need to be replaced, like an old playground, and then city council submits for approval... The bathroom, the exercise equipment, and the shelter was part of community development grant funding that they secured... And then like the dog park and some of the other stuff, (EBURD) is leading that. And so we work closely with them as well. And then we’ll work hand-in-hand as these projects develop moving forward,” said McQuillan. "It is a big effort by the whole community to put all of this together."
The Renaissance Fair will return to the park, on top of Shakespeare in the Park shows.
“We’re excited, specifically for North Park," McQuillan said. "Hopefully we can kind of use this model going forward too as we keep making improvements in other parks as well."
Billings Parks and Recreation had a few other exciting announcements to share.
“Next week we start girl’s volleyball. It’s a big program, excited about it. We have a new adaptive program called, ‘Love Serving Autism’, it’s a tennis-related program. Then we go into a little bit more of the spring, we start a new program called ‘Toddler Talk’. It’s a speech therapy program that we’re trying out this year. And then we go into some flyfishing, get ready for the summer with some flyfishing. Then we start our fourth season of Miracle League, another adaptive program out of Poly Vista,” said Chris Martin, a rec specialist for Billings Parks and Rec, on Friday. “Trying to cater to as many demographics and as many people as we can around the community. We want to offer anything that anybody’s interested in."
With the change to Billings School District 2's calendar, the parks and recreation department extended its summer programs.
“We’re going to have two extra weeks this year. School District 2 is starting late, so we’re going to have a Week 12 and Week 13. We’re calling them ‘bonus weeks’," Martin said. "So we’ll have some extra programming there that we can get into to make sure that we cover all those needs that people have."
Lastly, the mobile Rec 2U van will see an extension in its schedule this year.
“We’re doing a big expansion with that as well. We did it once a week for eight weeks last year and we’re going to go four times a week for eight weeks this year," Martin said. "So we’re going to do two parks on Monday out in the Heights, we’re going to go two parks Midtown on Tuesday, two parks on the South Side on Wednesday, and two parks on the West End on Thursday."
Billings Parks and Recreation staff might be just as excited as residents.
"When we get a new playground, (my kids) like to come to check out the new equipment," McQuillan said. "We always try and do something a little different from park to park."
To learn more about changes to North Park, click here.