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Caras Park upgrades aimed at better water quality and public space

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Posted at 4:39 PM, Oct 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 18:46:03-04

MISSOULA  — Contractors are diving in this week to start a $2.2-million upgrade to Caras Park.

The Missoula Downtown Association raised $650,000 from almost 50-businesses in just four months, finishing off a big funding package with work starting this week.

It's a two-fold project. Underground, Public Works is installing the second phase of a system designed to improve a problematic open pipe allowing stormwater to carry oils and other contaminants off downtown streets directly into the Clark Fork River.

"What this project is going to do is going to divert some of that stormwater into an infiltration gallery where it will get infiltrated into the ground where it can be treated," explained Andy Schulz, the City Engineer for Utilities for Missoula. "And so basically the first kind of flush of stormwater carries the most contaminates. That's what we'll be diverting into the infiltration gallery. And then a larger storm event will still discharge to the river."

"What we're doing here is what we are asking new development to do if they are proposing a discharge, is to actually meet MS4 requirements,"
Schulz explained.

Above ground, the 10-foot wide trail along the river, a chokepoint during big events, is being widened.

"So we're going to create a riverfront promenade that's actually 18-feet wide," says Nathan McLeod, the Parks and Trail design Specialist for the City of Missoula. "So a lot more space for people to walk and bike and stroll and hang out along the river."

The pavilion improvements will wait for another time. Crews won't remove the popular Caras Park "hill", but will flatten its crest to make it more accommodating.

One of the major above-ground pieces of this project is going to be the demolition of the old amphitheater. McLeod told MTN News it will be replaced by a new structure with more seating, grassy areas to make it more welcoming and generally improving how it fits in with the rest of Caras Park.

"Put some bench seats and a sloping lawn space. It's going to be softer. More green space. I think overall it's esthetically going to be a lot nice than what's there today."

Doing the work now during the Beartracks Bridge renovation saves $100,000 and ties in with improvements to the span. Future plans are for improved river access and bank restoration at Caras, and Bess Reed Parks, new restrooms and even an ice skating rink.

McLeod says the project is helping to show how the city hopes to add park features to meet the growing demand, especially since the pandemic. "We only have so much parkland. And the desire to use parks has increased significantly."