The City of Columbia Falls released the final draft of the River’s Edge Park Development Plan last week, outlining a plan to make improvements to the park in six phases over time at a total cost of $1.73 million.
The proposed improvements include expanded parking, improvements to the fishing pond area, a covered pavilion, picnic shelters, a natural playground area, restrooms and more.
The group had also included plans for a fenced dog park, but that item was removed after last week’s Parks Committee meeting.
“People still want to have a dog park in Columbia Falls, but just not at River’s Edge Park,” Public Works Director Tyler Bradshaw said. “We are still looking around for a suitable location.”
In April, the City announced its desire to improve the park and contracted with the WGM Group of Kalispell to develop a master plan that allowed for improvements to the park while keeping with what the public desired for the area.
A number of possible improvements suggested for the park were unveiled at a public meeting in June, including covered picnic tables, pavilions, restrooms, a dog park, a BMX bike course and more.
The final concept plan combines the most popular features from the three alternatives presented to the public at that meeting. Public input noted the need to have the park maintain a natural feel and avoid over-development. Therefore, the master plan divides the park into two general areas: a developed park on the west side close to the residential area and a rustic park as you move away from the residential area towards Flathead River on the east side.
Phase one of the planned improvements would include the expansion of the main parking area to 24 spaces with the addition of 41 more parking spaces to the south. Additional overflow parking would be available on the lawn area directly to the east on 4th Avenue, with space for an additional 62 vehicles. Phase one also includes restroom facilities near the park entrance. Phase one was estimated to cost $592,784, but the addition of lighting in the parking areas will add to that number.
Phase two incorporates improvements to the fishing pond, including four fishing stands, a fishing pier with wheelchair access, landscaping, trail improvements and rest areas with benches, picnic tables and picnic shelters. The estimated cost of phase two is $321,054.
Phase three would include the creation of a natural interpretive area in the northeast corner of the park with two picnic shelters, the addition of a vault toilet to replace the portable one places their in the summer months and erosion control of the river bank at an estimated total cost of $277,508.
The improvements in Phase four would center around creating a community event and gathering area east of the fishing pond. An electrical post would be installed to provide power to the area and a 40 by 60 foot covered pavilion would be added to the area. The estimated cost of Phase four is $228,022.
Phase five was to include a picnic shelter and a fenced dog park in the southeast corner of the park, but the dog park has been removed from the plan, meaning the cost of the phase should come in well below the estimate of $107,012.
Phase six of the plan includes the construction of a natural playground with obstacle challenges, which is intended to “provide a stimulating and challenging play area while staying consistent with the natural theme of River’s Edge Park.” Phase six is expected to cost $207,776.
While the plan may have been broken down into phases, Bradshaw stressed that the improvements will be subject to funding and will probably not come in the order listed.
“It’s all about what grants are available for what kinds of projects at any given time,” he said. “Right now we are looking at available funding for the fishing pond improvements and the parking lot.”
The master plan itself states that it is a “living document,” subject to change, revision and update as community needs and desires change.
The plan will next go before the City Council for final approval.