Ribbon cutting opens new Mountain Range Finder and Medicine Wheel atop Peets Hill

(Photo courtesy of Kurt Wehde)

June 18, 2024

To celebrate the completion of the new Mountain Range Finder and Medicine Wheel installation atop Burke Park (commonly known as “Peets Hill”), the City of Bozeman and GVLT invited the community to a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The opening of the installation marked the completion of several Burke Park improvements included in the successful initiative to add 12 acres to the southern end of the park made possible by a decades-long partnership between the City of Bozeman and GVLT, and the community’s overwhelming support. Other improvements have included building two new scenic overlooks, extending the Chris Boyd Memorial Trail down to Church Avenue, and upgrading the walking loop at the top of Burke Park to an all-abilities trail.

At the event, City of Bozeman Mayor Terry Cunningham; Dr. Shane Doyle, Apsáalooke (Crow); and GVLT Associate Director EJ Porth each spoke briefly before cutting the ribbon and inviting the community in to explore the installation.

A Hillside Named Burke Park

In her remarks, EJ shared a story about “a hillside named Burke Park.” The history of this beloved space reminds us how lucky we are that it will remain forever open and accessible. It’s a story of perseverance and belonging that resonates with both newcomers and longtime residents, so we’re sharing it here for all:

“Every community has stories. They become our local lore. And as we know from our Indigenous neighbors, stories are powerful. So in that spirit, here’s one of my favorite stories.

There once was a hillside named Burke Park, but everyone called it Peets Hill (P-e-e-t-s named after Earl Peets and his family who owned and farmed the property at one time). This ridge was slated to become a 600-home development in the late 1800s as Bozeman was vying to be named the state capital (we received Montana State College, now MSU, instead, and thank goodness for that!). Among many things over the years, this visible hillside was once a dairy farm, a horse pasture, a ski jump. The City of Bozeman and GVLT (led by GVLT’s fearless founder Chris Boyd) facilitated two land acquisitions in 1993 and 2008, forever protecting and sharing Bozeman’s crown jewel park. In the years that followed, this ground has hosted many first dates, proposals, and even weddings. It has welcomed hundreds of thousands of dogs. It held patients, families, and healthcare workers in grief and challenge on a short walk from the hospital. It fostered friendships and taught kids how to ride a bike. It welcomed visitors and inspired cross-country moves. It is a cornerstone of the Bozeman experience.

In 2022, the 12 acres at the southern end, a privately owned and taken-for-granted extension of the park, was listed for sale. GVLT, with our partners at the City of Bozeman, moved swiftly within 24 hours to make an offer for purchase. Despite our best efforts, the property went under contract with another party. We were crushed and defeated. Thankfully, after the original contract fell through, GVLT moved into the backup position to purchase the land. The campaign for ‘Peets Last Piece’ began and we were humbled. Within hours of the announcement, Peets enthusiasts from around the country made contributions. Over the next several months, 700 people, businesses, and partners made donations of all sizes to help us reach our goal. These 12 acres are now your parkland forever, new trails were added, existing trails were improved, overlooks were built into the hillside for the best sunset views in town, and the trails here were widened and graded to be accessible for everyone, including our friends down the hill at Aspen Point.

The installation we’re here to celebrate is the final touch, the fairytale ending for this community story. This Medicine Wheel and Mountain Range view finder started as just an idea many years ago. Bill Locke, a neighbor and frequent visitor, had the idea for a placemaking installation so that people could learn the names and peaks of surrounding mountains. And our friend Shane Doyle suggested incorporating the symbol of a Medicine Wheel to share Indigenous culture and traditions.

This installation would not have been possible without the diligent project management and inclusive planning of GVLT Trails Program Manager, Adam Johnson. Thank you to Shane Doyle, Smokey and Darnell Rides at the Door, Steven Davis, and Dr. Walter Fleming for their consultation regarding Montana tribal nations and the history of medicine wheels. Thanks to the team at Design 5 for designing a space that becomes part of the landscape rather than detracting from it. Thanks to Valley of the Flowers Landscaping and MFGR for their construction and metal fabrication. Thanks to Molly Stratton for her sign design. Thanks to the donors and partners like the City of Bozeman who funded this project.

From the center of the space, the mountain ranges on the backs of the seats will reflect your view and will point out the peak names (to be more visible through wear). The tribal names around the circle reflect the treaty lands in Montana and the location on the circle reflects their approximate location in the state. The Medicine Wheel is to be entered from the east and you move in a clockwise fashion. This symbol has been used by many tribes for generations for health, healing, and ceremonial purposes. The four segments align with the cardinal directions (N, S, E, W) or the seasons. This space is yours for quiet reflection, group picnics, or an outdoor classroom.

There are many lessons in this community tale. I have a little human now and I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy, about what we leave behind for our children. The story of Peets will be a story I tell my son, I will tell him about the kind strangers and dogs who say hello, about all the people who came together to protect it, about how we cared for it so that he could enjoy it as I have. I hope this is a story you tell your friends, family, and visitors. I hope that for years to come you can stand here and say proudly, I was part of that. I hope we tell future residents a story about how special places and connected communities don’t happen by accident. We will tell them we all share the responsibility for caring for it into the future.

The Peets Hill story is about perseverance. About a community that is so strong, a landscape so awe-inspiring, and a park so beloved that it persisted, despite the change and development happening all around it. More than anything, the story of Peets Hill is a story of belonging. I hope that when you enter this space, you know that you belong here. Whether you moved here last year, or your family has been here for generations, you belong here. Whether you bike, or hike, or roll, or walk your dog, you belong here. When you’re here, you know where you stand, literally and figuratively. You know you are home.”