By Bruce Sayler
The lifeguards are leaving for school.
So, the director of parks and recreation in Butte said, the Ridge Waters attraction at Stodden Park will close on August 26 this year.
J.P. Gallagher, the parks and recreation director, told Advantage Butte on Tuesday that he has been receiving criticism for the decision to the close the water park for the rest of the year, a week ahead of the Labor Day September 2 date, which is a day before the Butte public schools begin classes.
“But, we can’t continue without lifeguards, it’s not safe,” Gallagher said. “They’re all leaving, and we hired and trained, this year, every applicant we had. I can’t make people come down and work, plus you need the time to train them.”
The topic was one of a handful discussed during Advantage Butte’s August meeting at the Butte Plaza Inn.
Gallagher said the park has experienced a “very successful” season this summer. The lifeguard staff consists mostly of college and high school students. The director said the college students are beginning classes, some this week, and the high school students employed at the pool are athletes involved in fall sports. The high school sports practices have begun with seasons having started in golf and beginning in football, volleyball, cross country and soccer later this month.
The Butte Family YMCA partnered with Ridge Waters in providing lifeguards last summer, the water park’s first, but the agreement ended this spring when the Y opted out, Gallagher said. He said the hiring process for staffing the water park next summer will likely begin in March and that he may try to recruit other applicants besides students.
“We’re still right in step with, or extended beyond what most public pools in the state (have had for a swim season),” Gallagher said. “We’ve had a great year.”
Big crowds are expected with warm weather forecast through to the beginning of the public school year. Since opening last summer, Ridge Waters has made a big splash.
Gallagher said the Stodden Park, where Ridge Waters is one of the featured attractions, has experienced much use this summer with the implementation of a destination playground and updated tennis courts. Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation donations will push the project to about $10 million next year with a new clubhouse at the Highland View Golf Course and upgrading of the Veterans Memorial, Gallagher said.
“Last weekend was (Stodden Park’s) stress test,” he said. “We had Shakespeare in the Park, the state horseshoes tournament and Brewfest all going on at the same time and it all went well.”
He noted, smiling, a couple minor, non-injurious incidents did occur with two boys becoming entangled in “twine” that served as a separation at the park, and the timed sprinklers spraying the actors and audience when the Shakespeare in the Park play lasted longer than predicted.
Others at the Advantage Butte meeting were complimentary about how the park has come along so well and so fast and mentioned it as a crown jewel for Butte, and attraction for the city.
Vice president Kami Johnson, who also represents the Butte Plaza Inn and Dickey’s Barbecue, presided over the meeting. Brad Spear, treasurer, and rep for the Anderson ZurMuehlen CPA firm, reported Advantage Butte has $16,219 in its checking account, $24,000 in outstanding commitments and has received applications for $16,600 in funding requests so far this 2019-20 fiscal year.
Rhonda McCarty of Montana Special Olympics reminded that Butte will be the host of the state basketball tournament, November 7-9 and that the organization is still seeking volunteers to help hold it. She said the Butte response has been good and is pleased with how plans are progressing. The Special Olympics Montana website can be accessed for volunteer and event information.
Matt Stepan of the Butte Wrestling Club confirmed the organization will take over conduction of The Jim Street Mining City Duals high school wrestling tournament scheduled for early December. He said the field will be expanded from 24 teams, but was not sure yet as to how many would be involved. The tournament is also being moved back to the Butte Civic Center from Butte High School so that all mats can be viewed by the audience, Stepan noted. At Butte High, competition was in two different rooms with three mats in the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym and two in the old gym. The tourney began in the Civic Center before construction of the Richardson gym about 25 years ago.
Advantage Butte approved a $5,000 request from Montana Tech volleyball to help defray costs for holding the Big Sky Volleyball Classic this week in the Civic Center. The 14-team college tournament will run Thursday through Saturday in the arena with three matches often being played simultaneously on the Sportcourts.
Johnson brought the request for vote with a recommendation for approval from the group’s executive board. The motion passed unanimously.
Stepan, who is Montana Tech’s athletic director, expressed gratitude to Advantage Butte for its support of the volleyball tournament, which has become an annual event.
“The Advantage Butte sponsorship and the hotel hosts really help with being able to have this tournament,” he said. “It has been a big part of what has elevated our volleyball program to contender status.”
The next Advantage Butte meeting is scheduled for September 17.