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Bigfork mulls options for playing fields

November 29, 2018

Limited by the stipulations that come with Flathead County ownership of their ballfields, Bigfork Youth Baseball has begun a hunt for their own playing fields, according to the league’s vice president, Alex Olson.

The Bigfork Youth Baseball league currently uses the county owned Carlyle Johnson Park in Bigfork for practices and games starting in the spring, and shares the facility with other sports teams in the area. The group also uses the county-owned Aero Lane Park and Potoczny Park.

Without the benefit of its own parks and recreation department, the unincorporated village of Bigfork relies on the county to support nonprofits such as the baseball league and manage their facilities.

According to Olson, that means they also rely entirely on the county’s thinly stretched funding for park maintenance, but with so many other priorities vying for county dollars and attention, maintenance and improvements often take a back seat, he said.

Though Olson said the baseball organization continues to work with the county to maintain and improve current field conditions, he said the group ultimately hopes to procure its own facility in the future and has begun seeking opportunities within the community.

One option, he said, could potentially involve a transfer of ownership of Carlyle Johnson Park from the county to Bigfork Youth Baseball. The park offers four baseball fields and three soccer fields.

The steps it would take to make that happen, however, Olson said, are still unclear.

Once the baseball league acquires its own playing fields, Olson said they can begin applying for grant funding for which they are not currently eligible because Carlyle Johnson Park is county-owned.

Flathead County Parks and Recreation Director Jed Fisher said he believes the door is open for the sports teams of Bigfork to start a conversation with county Parks and Recreation on the private acquisition of county land, but that the cost of purchasing Carlyle Johnson Park would be very high.

“I understand not wanting to have to come through Flathead County to have to schedule games, whether that be soccer or baseball,” Fisher said, “But they would have to raise a substantial amount of money.”

According to Fisher, the taxpayers of Flathead County have invested approximately $750,000 in the purchase and development of Carlyle Johnson Park, and the county does have the money to continue to adequately maintain the property. However, he added, the county has a total of 75 parks under its jurisdiction and enough funding to care for around 35. He said the private acquisition of the park would potentially decrease the load on the county, but would require a lot of community funding and public input from the various groups and local residents who use the park.

Fisher stressed that the decision whether to sell a county park would be made by the county commissioners.

Derek Ford, assistant coach for the Babe Ruth Bigfork Youth Baseball team, said he and Olson are still in the infant stages of their search, and they remain open to input, suggestions and partnerships with the public to find any type of land that might work for their purposes.

The baseball league hopes to meet with representatives from Bigfork Schools, the county commissioners and other local sports teams to pitch ideas and start looking at potential land and funding options sometime in the near future.

For more information or to offer suggestions, contact Olson at 210-5182 or at alexander.s.olson@gmail.com.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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