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The Last Word - April 2019
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The Last Word with…
…Donna Gaukler

Missoula Parks and Recreation

By Deborah L.Vence


Donna Gaukler's career in recreation began in Lidgerwood, N.D., when she started working for the park district there at just 15 years old.

"The program was a youth employment program run through the federal government. I have been working in some aspect of parks and recreation ever since," said Gaukler, who is the current director of Missoula Parks and Recreation in Montana.

What Gaukler finds most appealing about the recreation industry is "Seeing the joy in people when they play or learn a new skill," she said. And, the "extra benefit" is "I love being outdoors and enjoy every season. I also like to learn to play in new ways. Our work is unique in that it is incredibly dynamic and has so many opportunities for partnerships and doing good for people and our public lands."

Her goals as director of Parks and Recreation in the City of Missoula are "To provide inclusionary places and programs for all. It is in parks where we meet our neighbors, learn about each other, our community, and become stewards of our environment," she said.

When asked about some of her accomplishments as director, Gaukler said that "As a team, we have enhanced Missoula through many avenues. Major efforts and projects include citizen-led comprehensive land use plans, management plans and site plans, four general obligation bonds (aquatics, open space twice, and a regional park), and significant growth in program services. Most recently, our community passed a conservation and stewardship mill levy. Additionally, we hold an important place at the community table on major issues including climate resiliency and sustainability, attainable housing, health and wellness, academic success, food access, habitat protection, active transportation and more," she said.

In her free time, Gaukler, who said she loves being outdoors, enjoys mountain biking, hiking, skiing, (cross-country and downhill), as well as backpacking, board games, puzzles and photography, just to name a few pastimes.

Other information about Missoula Parks and Recreation involves its collaboration with the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) to develop Montana Rail Link (MRL) Park, which is the city's newest neighborhood park that is being constructed in the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood. Construction on the park began in May 2018, and the grand opening of the park is scheduled for spring 2019.

According to information from the Missoula Parks and Recreation website, "The new 4-acre park site is located between North and South Avenue, Johnson Street and the Bitterroot Rail line. Parks and Recreation collaborated with neighborhood residents, MRA and MRL to develop a master plan for the park through an extensive public process. Residents who participated in the master planning process emphasized a desire for lots of open green space, a playground, a community garden, a dog park, a multi-use playing court and a small pavilion."

The design team that was hired to develop the master plan into a detailed park plan and create construction documents is led by DHM Design Landscape Architects. The design was loosely organized to reflect the rail yard, incorporating rail artifacts that were donated by MRL. "The round playground with its locomotive play structures and radiating walks might be seen as the railyard roundhouse, and the linear rows of the community garden might be seen as a series of rail tracks that terminate at bumper stops defining an entry plaza. A signal tower cantilevered over the recently completed Bitterroot Trail serves as a sculptural entry feature."

In regard to funding, the City of Missoula had acquired a 12-acre parcel in 2018 at Johnson and South through a partnership with Montana Rail Link. "The purchase was funded by 1995 Open Space Bond funds for the park and urban renewal district funding through the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for the remainder of the parcel."

What's more, the sale and donation by Montana Rail Link of the 12 acres allows "the city to fill in the last missing link in the Bitterroot Trail between downtown Missoula and Hamilton, and build a park at the junction of two neighborhoods that have a shortage of open space and parks. In addition, the railroad has agreed to support a bicycle-pedestrian railroad crossing at Central Avenue, adjacent to the new park, supporting citizen goals for active transportation, connectivity, access and parkland service."