Thompson Park gets playground upgrade

September 17, 2018

Kalispell’s Thompson Memorial Park has been a place where neighborhood kids have played and blown off steam for nearly a century.

The park, located at the corner of Ninth Street East and Seventh Avenue East, is named for John “Gus” Thompson, who played in the first World Series in 1903 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The park featured the first baseball field in town where boys and girls still play. The park also has a basketball court, tennis courts and a playground.

Thompson moved to the Flathead Valley in 1909 with his wife, Edna Knapp, who, coincidentally was a member of Kalispell’s first high school graduating class. Thompson was considered the “father of baseball” for the Kalispell area, choosing to settle in the town after his career with the major league. He lived in Kalispell until his death in 1958.

Recently, the park’s playground got a new feature that appears to be one-of-a-kind in Montana.

According to Kalispell Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Fred Bicha, the gravity rail line installed at Thompson Park is the first in use in Montana.

“We wanted something new for the playground and this seemed pretty neat to add to a neighborhood park,” Bicha said. “At 3:30 in the afternoon when the kids are out of school, the kids have to wait to get on it.”

The gravity rail line is described as a “innovative two-directional playground track ride that works in both directions to provide a round-trip ride.”

Betsy Wood, who has spearheaded past efforts to improve the park, was pleased to see the new feature.

“I’m excited to see the new rail,” Wood said. “We were driving past it the other day and saw kids playing on it and they were really enjoying it. I’m grateful for Parks and Recreation for continuing to upgrade the park.”

The park was rededicated three years ago after local efforts by the Lions Club, Friends of Thompson Park and Eagle Scout Steve King, to rehabilitate it.

“It’s an important park to many people. Kids have been playing here for a long time and we’ve had a lot of involvement from the community in getting the park back to where everyone enjoys it,” Bicha said.

The Kalispell City Council budgeted money for the new rail line at Thompson Park. Parks and Recreation even went high-tech for the wood chips underneath it.

“We got them from Mark’s Lumber. They are engineered wood fiber and they are safer for the kids to land on if they fall,” Bicha said.

There was some concern when the merry-go-round was taken out for the rail line, but it was moved to an area next to the rail line.

For those who prefer a more traditional approach to play time, there are four “old-school” swings as well as a sliding board. The park also has a pavilion and picnic tables.

Nic Chaffey is the city’s on-staff Certified Playground Safety Inspector.

“It saved us one-third the cost to design the playground instead of bringing in someone to do it,” Bicha said.

Bicha also said the playground at Woodland Park will be replaced next year.

“It’s going to be a huge playground there,” Bicha said.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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