Planning for Big Sky’s future in parks and open spaces
By Amanda Eggert EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – What should Big Sky look like in 10 years? What kinds of parks, trails and recreation facilities do residents and visitors want access to?
The Big Sky Community Organization is working with Peaks to Plains Design, a Billings-based civil engineering and parks planning firm, to get a handle on the future of recreation in Big Sky. Once the two groups have arrived at a vision for the area, they’ll codify it in a planning document that will guide the community’s efforts in the coming years.
Given the rapid clip of residential and commercial development in Big Sky, there was a sense of urgency around the issue at a Jan. 10 town hall meeting held at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.
In response to a question about what participants want the planning advisory committee to keep in mind throughout the process, one of the four brainstorming groups wrote, “Stand your ground in this fast-paced development” and urged the committee to keep the community’s best interests in mind.
So, what’s on the wish list? Recreation facilities that were highlighted included a pool or water park, a community gathering space open in the evening (read: not a bar), a fenced dog park, a picnic area in Town Center, access to water sources, and a fenced play area for children, among others. A facility for outdoor movie screenings and places for “sophisticated, developed play”—a climbing gym, for instance—also found champions in the group.
The unbuilt “green” quality that brought people here in the first place was also discussed at the meeting, which drew approximately 35 people. The group tended toward consensus on the question of open space—several people present expressed an interest in protecting the undeveloped natural character of the area.
Many of the participants were surprised to learn that none of the 24 platted parks in Big Sky are publicly owned. Gordon Lemmel, a Peaks to Plains landscape architect, said most parks are owned by homeowners associations or nonprofits.
“Big Sky, as it is today, just doesn’t have the means to make large land purchases [for public parks] easily,” Lemmel said. “It’s expensive and, frankly, it’s complex.”
Both planners and participants voiced concerns about popular trails being “loved to death”—a situation planners hope to avert by expanding options.
At the same time, Peaks to Plains founder Jolene Rieck said that she’s surprised by how much has been accomplished. “It’s astonishing what such a small community has been able to do,” Rieck said.
During the next phase of the planning process, Peaks to Plains will collect survey responses from a random sampling of approximately 300 people. Rieck said this stage is about obtaining input from a diverse sample of Big Sky community members and it’s OK, and maybe even desirable, for differing ideas to emerge.
After BSCO feels comfortable with the proposed plan, a process that will include public comment on a draft of the document, the organization will submit it to the commissions of both Madison and Gallatin counties.
“If it’s adopted by your local governments, it just gives it a little more teeth,” Rieck said, adding that if issues about open space and parks arise in the future, the community can refer back to a well-informed plan to guide discussions.
BSCO is aiming for a late summer 2017 project completion date. “It’s an important time to do this for all future development and growth,” said BSCO Executive Director Ciara Wolfe.