MISSOULA - Summer is winding down but the improvements at Caras Park in Downtown Missoula are just beginning.
When crews cut trees at Caras Park last October, some worried the iconic downtown space was being irreversibly changed for the worse.
But removing trees — and leveling off the hill — started the future for the park.
Through last winter, contractors installed an extensive system to clean the stormwater that had just been dumped into the Clark Fork for decades.
That's been followed by new landscaping, seating and the "sails" to beat the heat.
"We have a lot more projects coming down the pipeline, but when you think about what's happening in our community, we have way more people living downtown than ever before," notes Downtown Missoula Partnership Executive Director Linda McCarthy.
"About 3000 new units have been built downtown over the last 15 years and and Caras Park needs to be more than just an event venue for large festivals," McCarthy added. "It needs to be a place for people to, you know, relax and exercise and connect with their friends."
There've been unseen infrastructure changes too, such as additional seating, more power outlets, and accessibility — and there's a lot more coming.
The new downtown substation rebuild includes features like murals, and changing the space under the Bear Tracks Bridge.
"We'll have you know, bike racks and parkour and table tennis and basketball and climbing walls and art and lighting," McCarthy said. "So we're in the midst of planning that and designing it and, you know, looking for funding for that, both grants and gifts."
One of the more popular features at Caras Park, the overlook at Brennan's Wave, is also headed for some changes.
McCarthy says that will include better viewing opportunities, and getting rid of the dangerous access to the river.
"Creating that formal access point so that, you know, people who are floating the river when they get in and get out have things like parking and restrooms and garbage receptacles. So, you know, thinking really about the long term impact of the river corridor and making those improvements for that sort of next generation of Missoulians."
There's also an effort to make Caras more of a year-round park, with winter ice skating and other activities, all with an eye to improving Missoula's ties to the river.
"Improvements that make our environment greener, healthier, you know, more access for pedestrians and bicyclists and then really, you know, treating this whole river corridor and its string of parks and trails as the center and the hearts of our community," McCarthy said.