Riverside Park’s fate in hands of public, council

Outlook managing editor

Six years after flooding and an oil pipeline break caused extensive damage to Laurel’s Riverside Park facilities, buildings, and river bank, the city is hosting an open house to gather ideas and opinions regarding the fate of the property, Monday Aug. 14, from 4-7 p.m. The open house will be at Jaycee Hall in the park just south of Laurel proper at 1425 US Hwy 212 S. The public is encouraged to attend and provide input.
The city has contracted with Great West Engineering to create a park master plan using the information collected. According to Jerry Grebenc, who will be creating the plan, attendees will have the opportunity to help decide the park’s future.
Although proposals for a $12 million pot of money from a settlement with Exxon are due at the end of August, Grebenc said the master plan will primarily be used for long-term planning.
“There’s two approaches. The park board and the city are hoping to use the open house that’s coming to create a solid list of priorities to be used for the longer term vision,” he said. “They will also be applying for the Exxon grant. First, we want to establish what the public wants.”
Posters created by Grebenc briefly explain issues facing the park and/or suggested improvements. There is space on each for attendees to rank their importance. There is a poster covering building restoration; dog park construction, old dump cleanup; obtaining flood insurance; installation of interpretive signs; creating designated parking; building a pavilion, building picnic shelters; building a playground; installing lighting, removal of lead shot; revenue generation; RV and camping facilities; and trail creation. There is also a poster solely designated for other priorities attendees may want to submit.
Before the flooding event Riverside Park, which is just under 30 acres, offered a number of amenities, including camping. Although the indoor horseshoe building and Jaycee Hall remain open, there are far fewer activities in the park now. That’s primarily because of the lack of restrooms.
The park board approved the building of vault toilets about two years ago which would allow for the possibility of reinstating camping, at least. The board had grander plans, as well, which included many of the same items being considered currently. 

Riverside Park history
Home to community events, internment camp

Anyone familiar with the Outlook’s ‘A look back at Laurel history,’ column is aware that the park was once the social center of the city. In addition to hosting Montana’s first chautauqua in 1913, and subsequent chautauquas in later years, Riverside Park has long been home to a number of organizations and their activities. The Rod and Gun Club has occupied the east end of the park since 1923, according to their records, for example. Throughout the past century, the park was the preferred venue for dances, concerts, carnivals, political rallies and labor organization picnics among many other events.
The river-rock buildings were constructed during the Great Depression by boys in the Works Progress Administration. Unable to be supported by impoverished families, the young men essentially built their own bunkhouses. Later, during WWII, the park served as an internment camp for German Prisoners of War who were housed in some of the buildings. At the time, other buildings served as a cookhouse and guard headquarters.
Out of the remaining historical structures are buildings that were under the care and operation of the Jaycees, American Legion Post #123, the Rod and Gun Club, the Rifle Club, and a caretaker cottage.
Jaycee Hall is currently the only building in use in the park as it was relatively unscathed by floodwaters in 2011. Until the flood, it was headquarters for the park campground, also closed now due to the lack of restrooms.


Upcoming Events

  • Monday, February 26, 2018 - 10:00am
    Mondays, 10 a.m., Thursdays, 1 p.m., Laurel Senior Center, 720 S. 4th St.
  • Monday, February 26, 2018 - 11:00am
    Second & fourth Monday 11 am., Big Horn Resort, 1801 Majestic Lane, 281-8455
  • Monday, February 26, 2018 - 12:00pm
    Every 4th Monday, 12 noon, Billings Clinic, 801 N. 29th St., Billings, 657-4773
  • Monday, February 26, 2018 - 1:00pm
    Mondays & Fridays, 1 p.m., Laurel Senior Center, 720 S. 4th St.
  • Monday, February 26, 2018 - 1:30pm
    Al-Anon, Mondays, 1:30 p.m., 201 1/2 E. Main St.
  • Tuesday, February 27, 2018 - 8:30am
    (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) Tuesdays, 8:30 a.m. weigh-in, 9 a.m. meeting, United Methodist Church Basement, 652-7728


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