River group’s West End pond will be key trail connector


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Darryl Wilson, president of the Yellowstone Parks Association, looks out over a West End pond recently donated to the organization. In the background is the Scheels store.

The Yellowstone River Parks Association is the proud owner of a new piece of property—a 12-acre pond in the middle of an 17.6-acre parcel of land just behind the giant Scheels store on Shiloh Road.

Darryl Wilson, president of the YRPA, said the land was given to the group in December by developer Joel Long. Now a partner in Shiloh Crossing LLC, Long was the founder of the JTL Group, which was bought out in 1999 by Knife River, a subsidiary of MDU Resources Group.

Wilson said the YRPA is hoping to develop a parking lot, fishing docks, landscaping, trails and a picnic shelter on the property. The pond, like many of the projects undertaken by the YRPA, was originally a gravel pit.

Calling all volunteers

Volunteers and resources will be needed to develop the Joel’s Pond property, and YRPA has numerous other projects in the works. For information on volunteering, call the YRPA at 248-1400 or write to yrpa@yrpa.org or P.O. Box 1201, Billings, 59103.

The pit behind the new Scheels store was originally owned by Barry O’Leary’s Billings Sand and Gravel Co. and later by JTL, Long said. After the deal with Scheels was put together, Long said, developing the pond as a recreational asset “became an obvious thing to do” because the owners of Scheels saw that it would improve the whole area.

When Long first suggested the possibility of giving the land to the YRPA, in January 2015, some of the group’s board members were not in favor of accepting it, Wilson said, though he was. They thought the YRPA had enough on its plate already, and they thought it would conflict with the group’s mission of developing and providing access to recreational and educational opportunities along the Yellowstone River.

But once YRPA board members had a look at the land, Wilson said, they all agreed: “Yeah, this is a great piece of property.”

For one thing, though it is not on the river, it is bordered on the south by the Billings Bench Water Association Canal, which carries a substantial flow of Yellowstone River water during irrigation season.

For another, it is in a key position on Billings’ growing trail system, and promoting, building and maintaining trails is a large part of what the YRPA does. In addition to being allowed to use the Scheels parking lot for access to the land, the YRPA has a 15-foot-wide easement between the parking lot and the canal, which will be used to develop a trail that will connect with the existing trail along Shiloh Road.

And on the east end of the new property, the YRPA hopes to build a bridge over the BBAW Canal and hook up with the trail system that runs through Transtech Center, the business park that is home to the Windmill Restaurant.

Wilson said that when the YRPA first looked at the pond—which will be called Joel’s Pond after it is developed—they thought maybe it was fishless. But then they noticed the tall stand topped by an osprey nest and figured there was must be fish in it.

Wilson later ran into Bob Gibson, an information officer with Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Billings, who said he thought there might be a lot of bass in the pond.

Gibson said Tuesday that he did some checking and found out that while FW&P apparently didn’t stock that pond directly, it has stocked the ponds on the west side of Shiloh, and there is a lot of movement between the various ponds and waterways by carp, bass and trout.

If it is determined that Joel’s Pond needs stocking after YRPA gets a fishing dock and other facilities in, Gibson said, it will be done.

“We’re in constant contact with YRPA for a number of different projects,” he said. “So, when they’re ready for it, there’ll definitely be fish in there.”

Wilson said the YRPA has discussed the possibility of buying waters shares in the BBWA and using water from the canal to flush out the pond periodically, to keep the water clean. But he’s not sure that will be necessary. There are irrigated hay fields just north of the pond, he said, and the natural flow of water from those fields through the pond may be enough to keep it clean.

One the of the YRPA’s earliest projects involved the development of former gravel pits near the river off South Billings Boulevard. That property, which was donated to the YRPA by Long and the JTL Group, later became the Audubon Conservation Education Center.

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