When Missoula's Open Space Program Manager Jackie Corday learned earlier this month that the federal government had agreed to pay to pave the final portion of the Bitterroot Path, she broke down crying. It's a trail that she's advocated for since 1998 and one that will, when completed, link Missoula to Hamilton.
"That's a real clear sign of her passion and commitment," says Missoula Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler, who was present when Corday learned the news.
Sept. 12 marked Corday's final day as the city's Open Space Program manager, a position that she held for nearly a decade. She has accepted a job in Denver with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to manage public land acquisitions for the entire state. Despite the excitement of a new challenge, Corday is having a tough time leaving the Missoula landscape that she's dedicated years to shaping.
"It's been super bittersweet," she says.
Corday describes herself as an outdoorswoman and is an avid cyclist, and her background as an attorney served her well when she initially started as a citizen advocate for the Bitterroot Path in 1998. That work led to the city hiring her to lead its Open Space Program in 2004. Once armed with the city's portion of a $10 million bond, Corday's job involved cobbling together conservation easements to grow Missoula's trail system and working with area nonprofits to identify land for preservation.
During Corday's tenure, she spearheaded efforts to preserve 3,166 acres, keeping portions of Kelly's Island, Mount Jumbo and the North Hills free from development in perpetuity. She also led a push to extend the Milwaukee Trail west from where it once dead-ended at Russell to Reserve Street, and harangued local officials to apply for the $4.5 million federal grant that will now enable completion of the Bitterroot Path.
Corday's colleagues say that her successes are rooted in a deep commitment to public service. "When people are passionate like Jackie," Gaukler says, "it's about making a place better."
Corday's tenacity and passion prompted Missoula Mayor John Engen last week to honor her. On her final day of work, he dedicated Sept. 12 "Jackie Corday Day."
The proclamation didn't make it any easier to leave, she says. "This job has been the best job that I ever had."