Wide Open Spaces: Parks & Play

April 2022

by anna rogers | photos by Allison Reichert of Billings Parks & Recreation

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson 

It is spring, and things are changing. A world of color waits below the surface, ready to breathe life and newness into the land. As the buds break forth and the trees reawaken, the season rouses our sleepy spirits and invites us out - out to the spaces we all share, where everyone is welcome, and the opportunities are limitless. It’s time to play outside, Billings. 

The weather is shaping up for leisurely walks, picnics in the grass, swimming, enjoying community events, gardening, and play of all kinds. No matter your age, interests, or abilities, there’s a place for you in Billings’ parks.  

“Parks are free to everybody,” says Mike Pigg, Parks Superintendent for Billings Parks and Recreation. “We don’t look at social status, race, or abilities. We invite everybody to the parks.”

What We’ve Got 

The city of Billings has 1250 acres of developed parks, 1200 acres maintained as natural areas, and 250 acres of land that has been dedicated or deeded to the city but not yet developed. There are playgrounds, park shelters, swimming pools, athletic fields, splash pads, dog parks, trails, and many other recreational amenities within this acreage. These spaces play host to preschool playdates, senior citizen activities, adult and youth sports, and summer camps, to name a few. With 99% of all Billings’ residents within a half-mile of a trail, park, or other open/green space, chances are, your life in Billings intersects with the parks.  

“More people are living in apartments or urban settings,” says Mike Pigg. “We are their yard.” The parks call us all to enjoy and engage – to be a community at play, outdoors. There is the bustle of Little League baseball, squealing campers, and pick-up soccer. There is also stillness and solace – ducks gliding through ponds and branches swaying gently in the breeze.   

“Billings has great diversity in park land that a lot of communities don’t have. You can go to a natural area park, access natural fauna and flora, and feel like you’re in the hills, or a riparian area, or on the prairie – and you only had to drive a mile or two,” Mike says. 

The parks also host beloved community events, bringing people together to launch hot air balloons, listen to the local symphony, run races, or connect through volunteering. Billings Parks and Recreation even have opportunities for free garden plots, learning to fly fish, gleaning fruit from park trees, and rappelling on the Rims. 

Why It Matters 

A healthy city parks system reflects a vital community, offering positive benefits to the economy, the environment, and overall quality of life. In fact, according to the National Recreation and Parks Association, “Parks and recreation services are often cited as one of the most important factors in surveys of how livable communities are.” Parks are a key factor and draw to people looking to set down roots and invest in a place to call “home.” 

When a city has spaces to share and come together, people are individually happier and collectively safer. Crime and vandalism go down, neighbors get to know each other, and people can connect in a real and tangible way. Parks are a touchpoint for bridging socio-economic gaps and bringing more cohesion to communities. 

City parks also provide space to enable its residents, especially children, to be active outdoors. Parks are a place where kids can learn to share a swing, play together as a team, ride a bike for the first time, and roll down grassy hills with complete abandon. We know that this access to outdoor play helps kids focus, feel good, and thrive.  

Who’s Making It Happen 

“I just love this job. I get to maintain a space – making sure that it’s safe and inviting – and people get to go play and have fun.” Mike Pigg isn’t alone in the joy he takes in his job. “My maintenance staff is motivated,” he says. “They take so much pride in what they do. How can I not be motivated if my staff is this excited to go to work?” 

In addition to city staff for parks, recreation, forestry, and administration, many local partnerships keep Billings’ parks system thriving. “Our partnership with School District 2 is very important to us,” Mike explains. “For example, the City of Billings owns zero basketball courts. All of that is done through the schools.”  

Billings Parks and Recreation also partners with local daycares, the YMCA, Amend Park Development Council, YRPA, the local trail committee, Partners for Parks, local events committees, local arborists, and more. The parks’ vibrancy reflects the cooperation of many organizations and individual volunteers and residents who help keep these spaces clean and beautiful.  

How can you get involved? “Get out there and use them! Go enjoy the parks!” Mike says. The message is simple but rooted in decades of research, data, and experiences – go outside and play. This is how we create healthy children, healthy adults, and a healthy society.  

Check out the Billings Parks and Recreation booklet in this issue of Simply Local for complete information on summer camps and programming.  

Originally printed in the April 2022 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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