The new Parks and Recreation Committee looks to maintain parks, increase traffic to trails
Looking to increase recreational opportunities in the Darby area, the town has launched an effort to help maintain and improve the area’s trails and parks.
The Darby Parks and Recreation Committee will undertake the stewardship of Darby’s open spaces, work to increase access and programming in the town’s parks, and add value to Darby for both residents and visitors.
“We just want to increase engagement and shared ownership over the parks system in Darby and the South Valley,” said Shelby Rogala, recently hired to the new position of community outreach coordinator. “We don’t want it to be a dying community.”
The town of Darby has a lengthy ongoing commitment to its parks and trails. For over a decade, the Darby Trail of Discovery Committee constructed and maintained the town’s trail system by coordinating easements and fundraising. The Trail of Discovery, which broke ground in 2005 and continues to expand, connects neighborhoods, parks, and schools to the Bitterroot River and to the outlying trails in the Bitterroot National Forest.
The town also has a skatepark, an ice rink, and a handful of parks. Those public spaces also need regular maintenance, which requires funding and a small group of passionate community members.
In 2015, the Darby School District received an endowment of $3 million from Archie and Sue Lorentzen. Archie graduated from Darby High School in 1949 and the couple bequeathed 75 percent of their assets to the district. They both died in 2014.
“There were no strings attached,” said Darby School Superintendent Loyd Rennaker in a 2016 interview with NBC Montana. “But he really did like the idea of us helping the school and somehow benefiting the community also. That would be an extra benefit to his gift.”
Lorentzen’s endowment created Rogala’s new position. In addition to communications, grant writing and more with the school district, Rogala’s job is to look at Darby’s resources and see which would have the biggest possible impact on the community and its students.
So Rogala and her colleagues are asking themselves: What are Darby’s assets? How can they capitalize on the infrastructure that they’ve already set up in order to meet a community need? How can they enrich the lives of their kids?
The answer was to put their time and effort into their town’s public spaces, and the new Parks and Recreation Committee was born.
In addition to Rogala, there are four other committee members, each representing one of Darby’s public spaces.
Bryan Dufresne, a teacher at the high school, oversees the skatepark, which recently received some much needed upgrades thanks to Evergreen Skateparks and a generous donation by Pearl Jam bassist and Montana native Jeff Ament. The committee will maintain the skatepark, hold events, and do some landscaping to naturalize the surrounding grounds.
Jim Aronson, who was on the original Darby Trail of Discovery Committee, continues to be instrumental in the ongoing expansion and maintenance of the trail system. The plan is to finish construction of Darby’s trail system, as originally outlined by the Darby Trail of Discovery Committee.
Max Fiedler, the school shop teacher, also sits on the committee and oversees the Darby Ice Rink. The rink has been an asset to the Darby community since 2008 and improvements have continued incrementally over the years thanks to many community members, including Ronda Lang. The committee hopes to work off that momentum and to implement some permanent improvements to the rink, such as a cement base and a pavilion.
Juli Winthers, a local business owner, helps plans and organize the various events at Darby’s parks.
“Our hope is to get folks a bit more informed and aware of the parks and trail system, and to get out there and enjoy them with their friends and families as often as possible,” said Winthers. “Our long-term goal is for as many visitors and locals as possible, of as many ages as possible to become aware of and utilize the Darby parks and trails.”
Since the committee formed a few months ago, they’ve been meeting monthly. They’ve already held the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, which began with yoga at the High School gym followed by a run around Darby. They also organized the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Darby Public Library. Both events were well attended.
The enthusiasm for Darby’s open spaces is here. The committee hopes to keep that momentum going and to create a long-lasting, sustainable system that can be picked up by the next group of engaged citizens.
“In every small town you’re always standing on the shoulders of the people before you,” Rogala said.
Featured photo: Lucian Lawrence (left) and Zeek Mann from Billings visit their grandfather who lives in Darby. Lucian and Zeek were the youngest participants in the Turkey Trot this year. Photo courtesy of Juli Winthers.
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