Park and Recreation History in Colstrip Montana
1974 through 1997
On December 2, 1974, LaDonna Dithmer (Cope), the first Recreation Director arrived in Colstrip. Western Energy Company, under the direction of Martin White, was managing the town of Colstrip at this time. Colstrip had little to offer for recreation. Rye Park was an undeveloped field, and there were no playgrounds.
One third of LaDonna’s salary was paid by Western Energy Company, one third by Montana Power Company and one third by Units 1 & 2 Partners. During the summers of 1975 recreation programs were based at the “Mess Hall” (now known as Jimmy’s). LaDonna and 2 high school girls provided recreation programs for the children of Colstrip. On the Friday before the 4th of July the first Colstrip Days Parade was held. The parade consisted of 44 children.
There were thousands of men in Colstrip, because of the construction of the power plants, with basically nothing to do. The first year there were 20 basketball teams playing at the high school gym (now FBMS) with 130 participants. During the summer there were 15 – 16 softball teams. The softball field was located where Taylors Ace Hardware is today. This was a dirt field that was dragged and lined by the Recreation Director. Construction on the Community Center started the Fall of 1975. Lots of volunteer help planned and constructed the building. During their slow periods on Units 1 & 2, the employees of Bechtel Construction were sent to work on the Community Center. Martin White was an avid handball and racquetball player, so this area was the first completed. The wood floors in the gym were done totally by volunteer labor. The unfinished building and the pool were being used in the fall of 1976.
The Tot Lots in the original townsite were constructed and maintained by the “Town Crew” (employees of Western Energy Co.). The rocks at Rye Park were brought in to be used as a possible amphitheater.
Martin White gave LaDonna an assignment: Get people to come to Colstrip for a recreational activity. This was the beginning of the Spoil-A-Thon. The first year there were 3 participants and they actually ran through the Area A spoil piles of the Rosebud Mine.
A Board of Directors was established during LaDonna’s tenure to involve the community of Colstrip. This was the beginning of Colstrip Area Recreation and Parks Association (CARPA). Jack Ervin began his employment during the summer of 1976. Between LaDonna and Jack they ran the recreation programs in Colstrip and at the Community Center (including the janitorial and the maintenance of the building). In the spring of 1977, LaDonna resigned and Jack Ervin took over as the new Recreation Director. Jack oversaw the operation for 2-1/2 to 3 years, then Ralph Rust became the new Director. Ralph is credited with starting the running sensation in Colstrip, which still continues today. A year later Marge Noyd was hired and as it turned out was CARPA’s last Director. During Marge’s tenure Colstrip’s parks system expanded as did the population and the town itself. Stillwater Parks (Phases I & II) were the most evident accomplishments. The construction of these parks became the soccer fields and the softball complex. With the additional housing in Colstrip new parks were constructed. These parks being Hollister, Big Timber, Piedmont, Laramie, Winchester, Antelope, and Prospector. The community center facilities improved also.
Montana Power Company and it’s Partners prompted the CARPA Board to find an alternative to them managing parks and recreation in Colstrip. A viable avenue for the small town of Colstrip seemed to be the formation of a tax district for parks and recreation. It was found that the creation of a county park district could be initiated by:
a. a petition signed by not less than 15% of the qualified electors of the proposed park district; or
b. a resolution of intent adopted by the county governing body, calling for the creation of a county park district.
The petition or resolution must contain:
a. the boundaries of the proposed district;
b. the proposed maximum property tax mill levy that could be levied on property owners within the district for the operation of the district; and
c. the proposed number of members of the county park district commission. The number of members must be an odd number and may not be less than three.
A petition with the boundary, mill levy and commission information was submitted to the county clerk. Upon receipt of the petition the county clerk had 15 days to reject or certify the petition. A public hearing was held presenting information to the community and questions and concerns were addressed. An election was held in April of 1987 and voters residing in the proposed district favored forming a park and recreation district in Colstrip.
On July 1,1987 the Colstrip Parks and Recreation District was formed with a 3 mill maximum levy as the result of the April election. Rick Harbin was hired as the Executive Director of the district. There were three other full-time positions to attend to programs, maintenance and bookkeeping. At the same time a seven person Board of Directors was appointed by the Rosebud County Commissioners. All Board members are now publicly elected and by law receive no compensation.
During the spring of 1988 CPRD sponsored a survey to assess park and recreation needs in Colstrip. The results of that survey indicated that voters were strongly interested in three main projects. Those projects were:
1. Development of Castle Rock Lake
2. Construction of a golf course and clubhouse
3. Construction of a youth baseball stadium
Those who participated in the survey indicated they would support a tax increase to complete the projects. An election was held in April 1989 and voters approved raising the mill levy from 3 to 6 mills with the understanding that the additional 3 mills would be earmarked for the three projects.
The golf course construction began in April 1990 and was completed in October 1991. Golfers were allowed out on the golf course in May of 1992. The first golf pro had a trailer used as the pro shop until the clubhouse was completed. Construction began on the Clubhouse on October 26, 1992 and the building opened in July of 1993.
Improvements to the infields at Stillwater Park began in October of 1989 and were finished in April of 1990. The sod had trouble rooting so the fields opened late that year. Construction of the concession stand at Stillwater Park began in April 1990 and was completed on September 13, 1990.
An agreement was reached between CPRD, MPC and it’s Partners to proceed with developing and improving the Castle Rock Lake area. The lake development and trail construction at Castle Rock Lake were started October 1991 and finished in March of 1992. The labor for this project was donated by members of the Operating Engineers Union and the use of equipment was supplied by Western Energy Company for the improvements.
A survey was done in February of 1993 to ask the community for input as to the reduction of the mill levy from 6 to 3 or to continue growth and development of the park and recreation system in Colstrip. The results of this survey indicated no reduction of the mill levy would be pursued at this time.
During the fall of 1994 the soccer fields were dedicated and renamed as the “B.A. Schaefer Soccer Fields”. In memory of a man that contributed to the soccer program and the youth of Colstrip.
The community of Colstrip has benefited by the formation of the district. Baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, fitness programs and open gym are just a few of the programs available to our youth. The adult activities provided by CPRD are golf, softball, basketball, racquetball, volleyball, and many fitness programs. The areas CPRD maintains are the community center, the pool, the park system, bike paths, Castle Rock Lake area and trail, the ice skating/hockey rink area, the clubhouse and golf course.