Parks and Trails — Vote Yes, with Conditions!

It is hard to find anyone who does not love parks, walking trails and spending time outdoors. It is equally difficult to find individuals who do not sympathize with the determined efforts of Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope to improve the decrepit town of Pawnee, Ind. by creating more parks and natural spaces. The apparent popularity of the 2012 Parks and Trails proposal for Bozeman is thus a predictable response to any incitement of outdoor activity within a large radius of our town.

While this is a positive occurrence, it is necessary to consider the extent to which the $15 million bond could have alternative connotations for the Bozeman area. Most of the impacts the proposal would have are undeniably favorable. The most enticing elements include the preservation of water quality, the creation of safe routes to schools and an increase in property values.

$15 million is a daunting number, especially in light of this election’s push to decrease spending, although the proposal details that this number would require only $4 per month from each taxpayer. The proposal’s coincidence with this particular election is due to the advantage of currently low land prices, which would greatly aid the proposal’s objectives.

The proposal contains a willingness to accept the inevitable influx of an estimated 20,000 residents in the next 20 years. One would hope that the creation of new parks and trails would not only help to serve all neighborhoods equally but also keep new developments tasteful and cohesive.

The only problem with the proposal is that it seems to imply more immediate need than actually exists. Bozeman already has a multitude of parks and trails within city limits, not to mention the extensive number of hiking trails only a short drive away. The goal of “making us stand out from other cities” has already been magnificently accomplished. Bozeman’s ego cannot possibly get any bigger, though its population certainly can. This should not be the focus of the movement.

The main appeal of the proposal is instead its implication of land preservation in the hands of the Bozeman public. This could be an extremely effective manner of reserving prime tracts of land for public recreational use instead of ceding it to the greedy hands of inevitably tasteless and mindless developers.

The creation of more parks and trails could most importantly be used as a way to equalize neighborhood quality and property values. If the bond is approved by the public this November, the distribution of parkland should focus on neighborhoods that need increased property values and visual improvement rather than newer and wealthier areas, where the approximate $45 per year tax hike is less than a drop in the bucket for homeowners.

In a rapidly growing community like Bozeman, an equal allocation of quality in terms of public facilities (especially schools) and recreational areas is the only way to avoid the neighborhood inequity found in many cities that started out like ours. The city should use the beneficial nature of a potentially massive parks budget to ensure that Bozeman never has a “bad part of town.”