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About the Big Sky Horse Park


The Full Story

The History of The  Missoula Equestrian Park

By Laura Bakker, Co-Founder


In May 1982, Rita Baumgardner had a dream.  She said to husband Jack, “I am going to write a letter to the Parks and Recreation Department and the County Commissioners to see if there is a possibility that we could lease the ground east and north of the Dedicated 4-H Arena at the corner of North and 37th Avenues in Target Range for a horse park.”  While awaiting a response from the Parks Department and the County Commissioners, Rita along with Jack and Laura Bakker formed the Missoula Horsemen’s Council which consisted of two representatives from each participating horse organization within the Missoula , Frenchtown and Lolo areas.  The Council included groups such as the Western Montana Quarter Horse Association, Backcountry Horsemen, Five Valley Appaloosa Club, Five Valley Pony Club, Missoula Dressage and Jump Club, Charles Russell Riders, Five Valley Arabian Club, Halter n Hackamore 4-H Club and the Montana Quarter Horse Association.  In August, 1983, the Council’s first officers – Co-Chairs Marjorie Harper and Smoke Elser, Treasurer Rita Baumgardner and Secretary Laura Bakker met with the Missoula County Commissioners to discuss and sign the lease of 60 acres to be used as the Missoula Equestrian Park.  


In September, 1983, the Council went to work building a 150’ X 300’ outdoor arena.  Rita and Laura staked and measured the arena, while workers Mike and Fred Hartkorn, Doug Drake, the Bob Sheridan Family , Ginny Hinton stained and sealed the rails.  The Missoula Vo-Tech Center provided the heavy equipment and leveled the arena and also built the new gravel road, which was not completed until Spring 1984.  With donated materials from Jack’s Masonry and brick masons Dennis Monger, Jim Marshall and Bill Pickens along with concrete help provided by Dan and Red Schuler, the office/announcer’s stand became a reality in the spring of 1984.  More volunteer help included Mike Doherty, Helen Larsen and Tom Charlton from the Western Montana Quarter Horse Association and Dan and Ginny Schuler.  Dan donated his time to haul sand and fill donated by Western Materials. 


April 1984, County Commissioner Barbara Evans braved the cold/spring weather to assist with the ribbon cutting ceremony dedicating the new Missoula Equestrian Park arena.


During the same timeframe, Marj Harper oversaw the construction of the original dressage arena just south the main arena and the irrigation ditch. With the dedication of Marj Harper and Sharon Reiter, the cross country course was designed and built by Pete Costello (contractor for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles) and added to the Park in October 1984.  


The Council’s first fundraiser – The Missoula Horse Rendezvous - for the Park was held at the Missoula County Fairgrounds Saturday April 28, 1984 and featured Country Western Singer Jan Dell and food provided by the Backcountry Horsemen.  


In January, 1985, the Park was the recipient of a new water well donated by Jerome Well Drilling, Bob & Judy Jerome.  1985 also saw the installation of irrigation around the arena donated by Sperry Irrigation with the volunteer help from George Lake and his family.  Felton Construction donated equipment to improve the footing of the main arena along with help from John Baumgardner.


Summer of 1987, a new storage building was constructed by George Lake, Jack Baumgardner, Bud Anderson, brick masons Dennis Monger, Rick Fagg and Bruce Harford.  Kay Parmiter, Rita Baumgardner and Kathy Markette donated their time to paint the trim on the building.

In 1987, the legal paperwork started.  Lawyer Victor Valengenti volunteered his time to get the Council incorporated and the Council was awarded 501(c)3 status from the IRS.  In 1997 Articles of Incorporation were officially restated and filed with the State of Montana by Council President George Bingham.  


In 1997, Missoula County Parks Department along with the Missoula County Commissioners organized the Big Sky Stewardship Committee to oversee and manage the Big Sky Tower Street Complex.  The Complex encompasses 160 acres including the Missoula Equestrian Park, the Legion Ball Fields, the Little League Ball Fields, the Fast Pitch Ball Field and the Community Gardens.  With the assistance of the Committee and the Parks Board, the Missoula Horsemen’s Council has had the opportunity to expand the Missoula Equestrian Park.


1999 saw the “perimeter trail” take shape with the help of Susan Beyer and the Big Sky Stewardship Committee.  The Trail is 1.7 miles around the outside of the Park along North Avenue, Tower Street and 37th Avenue.  The trail is frequently used by not only equestrian enthusiasts, but dog walkers, bicycle riders and a lot of the neighbors out for an evening stroll. 


The year of 1999 also included the “Stalls For The Equestrian Park” fundraiser.  During 2000-2004, several these successful fund raisers were held at Roberta Brady’s facility on the Big Flat to raise enough money to construct the MD Barns that are currently in place at the Park.  Marj Harper, Rita Baumgardner and Roberta Brady were the driving forces behind the event. 


Through their efforts, the stalls allowed the Park to have several events for overnight guests as well as another facility for the Community in times of natural disaster emergencies. 

The Flying Colors Mini-Event was established in 2003.  Bob Chapieski, Merilee Malcom, John and Stephanie Kappes, Elaine Coller, Drue Kerns, Marge Clark, Katherine Malsanka, and Christine Foster were just a few of the volunteers organizing the Mini Event into the premier fund raising event at the Park.  The Event has seen riders from all over Montana, Idaho and Washington come to the Park to compete.  In 2012, the cross country course will see a face-lift to include a Prelim portion of the Course to entice more advanced riders to Missoula.  2004 the Horsemen’s Council refurbished of the main arena footing.


The round pen located next to the 4-H arena was added to the facility in 2005.  Council member Mary Baughn provided the volunteer time to collect donated materials and manpower to construct the addition.


In 2007, Jeanette Manley along with the Missoula Dressage Society started an additional dressage arena on North Avenue.  Supplemental footing work and new dressage fencing was completed in 2010 and 2011 by members Marj Harper, Susie Mayer and Jeanne Gaudreau.


The Backcountry Horsemen added the Expo to the Park in 2008 with a continued tradition of an exciting and educational event for all equestrian enthusiasts as well as the general public.

The perimeter fencing was replaced in 2009-2011.  The project volunteers included Barbi & Colbert Howell, Mike Hartkorn, Doug and Katherine Cox, Laura Bakker, Christine Foster.  The Big Sky Stewardship Committee and the Parks Board have generously donated materials to improve the aesthetic look of the fencing.  A post driver was donated by Pam Wagner Titan Machinery for the latest fencing project.


The Missoula County 4-H Horse Clubs totally renovated the fencing at the 4-H Arena in 2008, tearing down the old posts and rails and replacing with new fencing and accomplished it in a record 6 hours.  The Clubs utilized equipment donated by Patterson Construction.


In 2010, the Missoula County Parks Board, the Big Sky Stewardship Committee and the Missoula County Commissioners approved the addition of the Western Events Arena.  The WEA is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2012 and includes a 175’ X 300’ arena, additional landscaping and as well as handicap access to the facility.  The WEA Committee – Jim O’Reilly, Laura Bakker, Ginny Schuler and Barbi Howell have worked extensively to insure the footing, fencing, landscaping and entire facility will benefit from the enhancement of this arena to the Park.


Additionally, the Park is the proud owner of extensive irrigation equipment to accommodate the increasing number of “green” areas proposed by the Landscaping Committee – Christine Foster, Laura Bakker, Heidi Kneib and Cindy Arnott.  The Target Range Homeowners Association has generously donated to the addition of more trees and shrubs at the Park.


2011 saw an increase is non-equestrian use of the Park from the Fun Run, to Big Sky High School holding a cross country competition and the Missoula Bicycle Works bike races.  The Park has also seen a growth in the number of Missoulians walking the perimeter trail as an extension to the Fort Missoula walking path.


2012 will also see the re-naming of the original 4-H Arena in memory of Martin Briggeman.  Martin was instrumental in the Park dedication of the 4-H Arena and the 4.52 acres on North and 37th Avenues.  In the Spring of 2012, the Park will see a new entry way.  Barbi Howell and her husband Colbert will be overseeing the re-construction process of that project which will enhance the Park’s entrance.  


The Missoula Equestrian Park has evolved from Rita Baumgardner’s dream of turning a once cow pasture/ag field into an incredible addition to the City of Missoula Park and Trail System and Western Montana.  With the number of entities utilizing the Park increasing every year, it becomes very obvious this location is a benefit to more than horse enthusiasts.  The progression of the Park has taken on a whole new character.  It was originally developed into as an Equestrian facility but can now be enjoyed by the whole Missoula Community.

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