Harvest Church volunteers give huge boost to river park

For nearly four years, volunteers with the Yellowstone River Parks Association, individually or occasionally in small groups, have been working to prepare a regional park a few miles northeast of Billings.

This past weekend, their labors got an enormous boost from more than 500 volunteers in a project organized by Harvest Church.

In just a few days, the volunteers added more than 4,000 feet of new trails to John H. Dover Memorial Park, took out as many as 250 Russian olive trees, almost finished fencing off a dog park that will be bigger than the one at Sierra Park in the Heights and put in about 3,000 feet of perimeter fencing.

“Those people were absolutely amazing,” Darryl Wilson, YRPA president, said of the volunteers.

Roger Williams, immediate past president of the YRPA, was just as impressed.

“What an inspiring group of men and women,” he said. “That was the most fun I’ve had in years.”

Harvest Church has worked on numerous community projects over the years, but this was its biggest yet, though it takes about the same number of volunteers to put on its 4th of July Celebrate Freedom Festival.

Chuck Barthuly, director of the Better Billings Foundation, the church’s charitable arm, estimated the number of volunteers at close to 600. He said the volunteers, who worked three-hour shifts Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon, accomplished much more work than expected.

“Man, we knocked it out,” he said.

In addition to all the volunteers with hand tools, church members who are contractors or otherwise skilled showed up with various pieces of equipment, including a skid-steer with a shearer attached, which made short work of the Russian olives.

Another church member provided a Bobcat with a Harley Rake, an attachment that quickly carved out and conditioned thousands of feet of 6-foot-wide trail. Volunteers then lined the trails with fabric and covered it with four inches of crushed limestone.

Graymont, which has a lime plant in Townsend, donated 120 tons of limestone, and Montana Limestone Co., which has a quarry 70 miles south of Billings, provided 250 tons at a substantial discount. Warrant Transport delivered the limestone for a similarly reduced price. Other expertise was provided by Justin Wagner Construction and Castlerock Excavating.

“It was just an amazing weekend from start to finish,” Barthuly said.

Bruce Larsen, a YRPA member who has put in thousands of volunteer hours on various projects, concentrating on Dover Park in recent years, said the Harvest volunteers actually started working Thursday on Russian olive removal, fencing and the marking out of trails around the 178-acre park.

Bridge

Fran Nunn/YRPA

Harvest Church volunteers cross a 210-foot-long suspension bridge at John H. Dover Memorial Park.

Land for the park has been donated to the YRPA parcel by parcel over the years by Jim and Ginnie Sindelar, who envisioned a vast regional park that would honor Jim Sindelar’s grandfather, pioneer John H. Dover.

They have donated a little more than 180 acres so far, including land on a bluff along the Yellowstone River and a big chunk of bottom land along Five Mile Creek, a few miles northeast of the Heights where Mary Street becomes Five Mile Road.

The Sindelars envision a 300-acre park with trails, recreation areas and an 85-acre lake. The park could be double its projected size if the Sindelars also donate their adjoining farm down along the river. The whole park won’t take shape for years, until Knife River Corp. is done mining gravel on the site, but the YRPA has been pushing ahead with work on the acres under its control.

Most work to date has been done in the 68 acres along Five Mile Creek, which meanders from Five Mile Road down to the Yellowstone. The YRPA has already built three bridges over the creek, and after this weekend the property is laced with limestone trails and is much more open than it was previously, thanks to the clearing of the Russian olives.

The trees are an invasive species that crowd out native trees like cottonwoods and willows. Larsen said he did mark about a dozen “regal” Russian olives to be spared over the weekend. He wanted to save ones that provided critical deer habitat or substantial shade along the creek.

The dog park is on the high side of the park near the gravel pits. Wilson, who led a team of about 100 volunteers in fencing off the park this weekend, said it enclosed between 8.5 and 9 acres. By comparison, the city’s High Sierra Dog Park is 7.5 acres, and the proposed dog park at Centennial Park on the West End, recently approved by the City Council, will be 6.6 acres. Wilson said he still wants to fence off a separate area within the dog park for smaller breeds.

In addition to the work done this weekend, Harvest Church has committed to working on future projects at the park.

“We’ve opened the door for a long-term relationship, and that’s what this is all about,” Williams said.

The finished parts of the park might be opened to the public as early as next spring, but only if the YRPA manages to hire an on-site caretaker who will live there in a camper-trailer at least part time.

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