The Swords Park Development Committee may have hit a few roadblocks Wednesday on plans to upgrade the park atop the Rimrocks.
The volunteer committee has worked about four years on plans to rehabilitate the park and add a bike and hiking path. Committee members have already received approval of the plan from the Parks, Recreation and Public Lands Board and thought they were close to seeking City Council approval.
But comments from a representative of the family who donated the land for Swords Park and other residents left committee members wondering if they must go back to the drawing board.
The plan is to make a new entrance to the park just west of the power substation off Airport Road. The road is slated to be widened to four lanes, probably beginning in 2005. That project would help control access which is now basically unlimited, said Sandy Fischer, a design consultant. The plan would improve interpretive sites at Yellowstone Kelly's Grave, Skeleton Cliff and Boothill Cemetery.
It would also close the east end of Black Otter Trail to vehicle traffic. The plan calls for a parking area between Airport Road and the Rims with the road continuing to just east of Yellowstone Kelly's Grave, midway to Skeleton Cliff, where there would be another parking area and turnaround. There would still be emergency vehicle access to the east.
Closing the road is the part that of the plan that irks Lloyd Swords, whose great-grandfather donated the land for the park.
Swords said he agrees with most of the plan and said any improvement would be better than the degradation and vandalism ongoing in the park. But he was adamant that closing the road goes against his family's wishes. Swords' father is buried at the east end of the park.
"I know my father will be spinning in his grave," he told about 30 people who attended the public meeting at the Community Center.
The plan seems to be moving toward creating an "environmentally correct park," Swords said. A former member of the parks board, Swords said there are places that is appropriate but not Swords Park.
"That isn't why my great-grandfather gave this land to the city, this is more of a promenade," he said.
Mary McClane, whose husband Wally is co-chairman of the committee, said she opposes the plan to create an entrance near the substation which she called "too close to the ugly electrical business up there."
Fischer said the plan includes building a berm with plants to partially obscure the towers, at least from up close. She said the road would angle slightly away from substation. The committee agreed to look into the possibility of working with NorthWestern Energy to see if the company would be willing to make the station less visible. The committee will also consider moving the entrance farther west.
The committee also plans to meet with Swords and his family, hopefully to resolve their concerns. Still, the members and planners seemed frustrated at what they called comments that came late in the process. Swords said he has voiced the opinion before, but Glen Myers, who co-chairs the committee, said those comments weren't made at public meetings either by Swords or other family members who attended the meetings.
"Where has everyone been for the last four years?" Myers said. "We have no time now. In less then two years bulldozers will be digging (Airport Road)."
Myers said he respects Swords' feeling he has a responsibility to uphold the family's wishes, but he and other residents have an similar goal to protect the park from further destruction by off-road drivers, some of whom have actually driven over Yellowstone Kelly's grave. Myers also said the family donated the land, but did not set up a trust to fund road maintenance.
Myers said the committee still hopes to take the plan to council in late June or early July. Once it is approved by the council, the city has federal money waiting and will let bids on the work.