Guest column: The second phase of Peets Hill improvements

By Chet Work, Gallatin Valley Land Trust Executive Director, and Mitch Overton, City of Bozeman Director of Parks & Recreation

August 31, 2023

Peets Hill. It is about as iconic Bozeman as you can get. Whether you’ve lived here since childhood or are new to town, Peets Hill (also known as Burke Park) is where community happens, our literal common ground. This 56-acre park in the heart of Downtown Bozeman is also an example of the strength of the 33-year partnership between the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) and the City of Bozeman. Together, with the help of donors and landowners, we’re proud to have stitched together the park with three land acquisitions dating back to 1992, including the most recent 12-acre addition on the south end in 2022.

As part of this recent acquisition, GVLT and the city saw an opportunity not only to expand the park boundary but also improve the park for everyone in our growing and changing community. After numerous public meetings and a survey with nearly 600 respondents, it was clear that our community overwhelmingly supports maintaining the beauty of the land and ensuring its accessibility for the whole community. Comments focused both on the value of the property for its ability to provide an open and quiet refuge for people and dogs and a place to gather with friends for a sunset, take visitors for the best views in town and orient yourself to the landscape.

The first phase of improvements occurred on the newly acquired acres and included two new overlooks and a handicap accessible trail to reach one of them. We also added a new trail that winds down to Church Avenue and improved the existing “Simkins Spur” trail.

The second phase of Peets Hill improvements, which will start soon, includes the installation of a circle of benches to better serve gatherings, picnics or to be used as an outdoor classroom. This will be located at the top of the hill inside the walking loop trail. The backrests of the rock benches will be silhouettes of the mountain ranges encircling our valley with prominent peaks named. If one were to stand in the middle, the silhouettes and peaks will align with their physical location.

We cannot fully understand this landscape unless we acknowledge the indigenous people who used this valley well before any of us arrived. The Gallatin Valley was a common hunting ground used by many tribes. It was referred to as the Valley of the Flowers for its abundance of flora and fauna. The many tribes that moved through this valley believed there was plenty to go around, and it became a peaceful place to be shared, not fought over. The recent teepee and art installations hosted by Mountain Time Arts have helped remind us of the history of the land. To continue this education, we will be including a Medicine Wheel inside of the bench area, a symbol that has been used by many Native American tribes for health, healing, and ceremonial purposes with four segments aligned with the cardinal directions. We encourage the community to find their own meaning in this sacred space.

Finally, our outreach revealed that there are a significant number of people in our community that are unable or unwilling to use Peets Hill. Some for fear of rambunctious dogs and the peril of being knocked over, others because the trail surface, slope and materials are unable to be navigated by people with different abilities. Our goal in designing new trails and improvements has been to increase accessibility. While Peets Hill is a designated off-leash dog area, the new 12 acres to the south will be an on-leash area. Even though the medicine wheel and mountain range identifier will be in the off-leash zone, we encourage our community to be mindful of the people who have historically not been able to enjoy the park and the cultural significance of the medicine wheel. Please, keep your dogs under voice control and consider leashing your dog if the space is being used by others. Surely, we can take a cue from the Blackfeet Nation who called this valley ‘Ahkoto Waktai Sakum’ which translates to ‘many come together country’ and share this special place with everyone in our community.

You’ll notice construction through the month of September. Thank you for your support and patience.

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