BILLINGS — Public park usage has spiked during the pandemic and the city of Billings is looking to improve its parks.
“During the pandemic, people were required to social distance and those kinds of things and you still have to be active and worry about your health,” said Billings Community Development Program Coordinator Tam Rodier.
This spring, the city will be installing internet hotspots in eight different public parks across town. These parks were chosen for a specific reason.
“We looked at all the parks in Billings and identified the ones that were in low-income areas of Billings,” Rodier said.
These parks include North Park, Pioneer Park, Comanche Park, South Park, Optimist Park, Highland Park, Central Park, and Arrowhead Park.
Park improvement will be funded by federal money in the form of COVID-19 and Community Development Block grants.
“Low-income community members were having a hard time accessing services or even finding out about services, they didn’t have internet access,” said Rodier.
Park enthusiast, Laiken Williams, thinks it’s a great idea.
“The library is awesome too but not a lot of people can get over there, so I think that’ll be great,” said Williams.
Chase Johnson is another park-goer, he believes there are only benefits to the move.
“I think there is benefits to it. If people are wanting to enjoy nature they can do that without connecting to Wi-Fi and that’s fine. And the people that need it, then they need it,” Johnson said.
The funds will be used to improve other parts of the parks as well.
“At North Park, we’re hoping to put in an adult exercise area that’s adjacent to the playground,” Rodier said.
Comanche Park will be getting an entirely new playground so kids can play safely.
Restroom facilities will be improved with touchless technology such as automatic doors, auto lights, and non-touch water and soap dispensers.
Some trails will be improved for accessibility, like the Virginia Lane down by Zimmerman Center into Pioneer Park.
“If you’ve got any kind of mobility challenge, getting to that path is just a real challenge and that’s going to be improved as well,” said Billings council member Tom Rupsis.
The improvements couldn’t come at a better time when our parks are being used now more than ever before.