History of Burke Park

November 19, 2021

Taken from the Burke Park master plan.

The Highland Ridge area (the top of Peets Hill) of Bozeman was first platted as the Electric Heights Addition in 1892 in an attempt to make the City of Bozeman look considerably larger on paper than it was in reality. The addition included 614 lots of about 300 square feet, each with streets and alleys. It was hoped that the “large” City of Bozeman would attract a major state institution such as the state capital building or a state prison. To the disappointment of the city leaders, Bozeman was instead given the institution of Montana State College.

The ridge and surrounding area have been used for many different purposes over the years. The cemetery began as a five-acre donation to the city by William Blackmore in 1872 when he and his wife were vacationing in the area from England. His wife, Mary, died suddenly and was buried in what is now Sunset Hills Cemetery. The site of Lindley Park was once the city garbage dump, later to become Bozeman’s premier park. Bozeman’s first golf course and country club lay near the cemetery lands. Today the log clubhouse is the Lindley Center, and the street running past it is still named Golf Way. In 1938, a couple of boys were digging in the hillside when they uncovered some human bones which were thought to be those of a Native American woman. There was a lighted ski jump along the west flank of the ridge near Lindley Park from which many of Bozeman’s Nordic skiers learned to jump. In the 1950’s a local man whose home was built up against the hillside ran a small steam engine train on tracks which he retrieved from an old mining camp. It went along the abandoned drainage ditch on the hillside where he gave the neighborhood children rides.

The Site of Burke Park was once owned by Earl Peets. The Peets family lived on the hill where they operated a dairy. The cow barn was uphill from some of the Bozeman water supply but a local outbreak of typhoid fever ended the dairy operation. He offered this parcel of land to the city free of charge in 1946, but the city turned him down. The north end of the tract is still known locally as Peets Hill and has been a popular sledding hill for decades. The Burke family bought the tract in 1947 and used it a horse pasture, but eventually, despite its private ownership, the land was used for hiking, running, mountain biking and dog exercising.

This forty acre parcel along the west flank of highland ridge became a city park in 1993 after several years of planning and negotiating. Many individuals and groups were involved as early as 1990 in negotiations for this property including U.S. Senator Conrad Burns, U.S. Representative Pat Williams, Gallatin National Forest, city manager Jim Wysocki, Bozeman mayors Tim Swanson and Bob Hawks, and the Burke Family. The City brought the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) into the negotiations after the talks broke down. It was primarily due to the perseverance of GVLT’s director Chris Boyd that the negotiations were successful in April, 1993. Burke Park was dedicated as a Bozeman city park on August 8, 1993.

The property was purchased by the city from the Burke family for the top appraisal price of $235,000. The State allocated $50,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the city matched that from the park land trust fund (cash in lieu) and the remaining $135,000 came from the general fund. Under the agreement, the Burkes retained two one-acre parcels at the ridge crest as future home-sites. GVLT and the City of Bozeman acquired those two sites as additional parkland in 2008.

Edmund Burke Sr. Came to Montana with his family in 1878 and settled near Salesville, known today as Gallatin Gateway. He attended Montana State College (MSC) where he ultimately taught and became head of the Chemistry Department. He was elected mayor of Bozeman from 1924-1927. Edmund Burke Jr. was born in Bozeman in 1909. He attended both Montana State College and the University of Montana, then opened his law practice in Bozeman. He was Gallatin County Attorney for two years, then served the Office of Naval Intelligence during WWII. He returned to Bozeman in 1945 and served a term in the State Legislature. He retired from the Navy in 1963 and settled in Oahu, Hawaii.

Numerous trails have been improved primarily through the efforts of Gallatin Valley Land Trust and the City of Bozeman Parks Department. Also heavily involved in trail construction and revegetation were the Montana Conservation Corps, the Bozeman Rotary Club, and volunteers from local grade schools, Bozeman Senior High School, MSU college students, and community residents. The Main ridge–top trail was improved through the mid-nineties. Wortman Spur Trail, which connects the ridge to South Church Street was added in the late nineties. The Highland Ridge Trail and the Simkins Spur Trail which branch off the south end of the Boyd Trail were added later.

The north end of the park, referred to as Peets Hill, is now an even more popular sledding hill with recent safety improvements such as a berm at the base to prevent sleds from running out into south Church Street or into the Mill Ditch. The old shack at the bottom has been repaired, painted and improved as a warming hut. In November of 1997, Burke Park was established as a leash free zone making it exempt from the newly adopted leash law which would fine owners of unleashed dogs a minimum of $50.00. Considerable debate was aired regarding the leash free zone and emotions are still strong on each side of the issue.

The popular main ridge-top trail was named in remembrance of Chris Boyd after his death in 1998. Benches, plaques and additional plantings were also installed in his memory. A strong proponent of trails, Boyd was the catalyst for GVLT’s trail network by raising funds, securing easements, and helping to build more than fourteen miles of local trails. Burke Park is key to the trail System “Main Street to the Mountains” and is a treasured wildland within the city from which spectacular views are enjoyed. Since the dedication of Burke Park in August 1993, the public has come to use it heavily throughout all seasons. It is almost impossible to visit the site without seeing other people enjoying the paths and views.

Click here to read a Bozeman Daily Chronicle editorial from December 20, 1990 about the City’s effort to acquire Peets Hill.