Until a new survey was completed in 2012, the boundaries of Greenough Park were vague and shifting.
"The old survey methods, before we had GIS, before we had good solid aerial photos—the survey descriptions were based on natural landforms," says Elizabeth Erickson, Missoula's Open Space Program manager. "So, it was things like, 'Walk 10 yards, turn left at the cottonwood tree. Walk another 50 yards, turn right at the river channel.' And you can see how that, over time, would create a moving boundary for that particular park."
As the natural landforms of Greenough shifted over time, so did the property lines of the homes along its border. And when the city finished a resurvey in 2012, officials discovered that many homeowners had encroached, often unintentionally, on what is actually public parkland. Now, the city is trying to find ways to deal with these encroachments—and many of the affected landowners are unhappy with their options.
For $11 a square foot, landowners can purchase a permanent and transferable easement, which would allow whoever owns the encroaching property to maintain its current use in perpetuity. For a flat fee of $894, landowners can buy a permit that will allow them to maintain the encroachment but only temporarily. Or, landowners can remove their encroachment and restore the land.
Owners have expressed reluctance to get rid of yards, gardens and other features they have long maintained and considered theirs. They have also objected to the price of retaining what they have. Their dissatisfaction derives, as well, from the fact that the city's resurvey of the park came almost 60 years after it was supposed to begin. A new survey was the first of 13 stipulations the city agreed to in 1955, when officials settled a lawsuit brought by the Greenough family over the city's failure to maintain the park in a "natural" state.
"Had that been done at the time," Charmaine Wilson told the City Council's Parks and Conservation Committee on June 11, "many of these issues would not be on the table today, because we would have known what the boundaries were."
Wilson's family owns a home bordering the park's west side.
While Erickson is in the process of working with owners along Greenough Park to deal with their encroachments, she is also working with city council to draft and adopt a new, citywide policy that will ease the process of resolving conflicts over encroachments in the future.
"As we begin to address more and more of them, the more you have a systematic policy, it's just more efficient, to be honest," Erickson says.