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First-grade students brainstorm plans for city property as committee meeting follows

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY ERIC KLANN - Alex Stone of the National Parks Service and Barnes Butte Elementary first-grade teacher Jody Fletcher go over a planning board that is part of the students' junior planner storyline.

Kids and adults have come to the table to help the city decide what it should do with its Barnes Butte property.

The 460 acres of property purchased from IronHorse in 2016 for $1.2 million has enjoyed increased use from hikers and runners and has become a new destination for foot races and school field trips.

But city leaders want to better define how the property should be used, and in doing so, they are reaching out to a variety of residents to learn what they want and envision.

What started as a series of focus group meetings this past year has segued into a Thursday kickoff to a master plan process the city has long awaited.

The day started out with Barnes Butte Elementary School first graders meeting City Engineer Eric Klann and Alex Stone from the National Parks Service. The students have been engrossed in a storyline curriculum this school year where they are taking on the role of "junior planners" for the property.

"About a month ago, I went and explained to them why the city purchased the property and asked them to become junior planners to help develop it," Klann said.

At the first meeting, the youngsters had visions of soccer fields and zip lines on the property or perhaps a swimming pool, but as they dove deeper and began to develop an inventory of the property, their views changed.

The junior planners noticed the property, situated right next to their school, was a popular location for walking, running and biking and offered such unique features as wetlands, grasslands and juniper slopes as well as a pond, some bat caves and a horse racing track. The tracks of horses, coyotes and deer were spotted on the property as well.

"I asked them how they would like to develop the property," Klann said of the Thursday meeting. "Universally, they would like to keep it a natural space, however, they would like to make improvements to make it more accessible to all. They would like to pave a trail to the (horse racing) track and resurface it with a rubberized material so their friends who are in wheelchairs can experience the property."

The junior ranger work will continue for the remainder of the school year and will coincide with the start of city master plan meetings, which launched Thursday evening. The first public session drew 41 people, according to Klann, and set in motion a grant-funded process that is expected to last about a year.

"The big thing yesterday was just going through the process and beginning to develop a value statement for the site," Klann said.

People went around the room giving their vision for the property and discussing what they felt is important. Groups represented at the session included mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders.

While ideas and values were diverse, some constants continually rose to the surface.

"They appreciate the open space and the ability to have that natural environment close to their home," Klann observed.

The exact date of the next master plan meeting is not yet determined, although expects it to take place in the next month or so.

"The community is very much welcome to attend," he said.

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