Long ago we asked our readers to write in with reminiscences of Greenough Park, thirty-seven acres spanning Rattlesnake Creek that were given to the city by Thomas and Tennessee Greenough more than one hundred years ago. The Greenoughs deeded the land to the city as a place “to which the people of Missoula may during the heated days of summer, the beautiful days of autumn, and the balmy days of spring find a comfortable, romantic, and poetic retreat.” The Greenoughs specified that the park be kept in a natural state and the family has steadfastly maintained that position, much to the benefit of the community and the small ecosystem the park cradles. Because it is a scant half-mile from campus and its life span nearly parallels the University’s, Greenough and the UM community have been inextricably linked for decades. We are happy to share these memories, knowing there are thousands more out there and knowing that memories continue to be made everyday at a park as rare and honest and accessible as any in the land. - JM
Through the Years
By Paddy macDonald
As I sit on a creekside bench in Greenough Park, a kingfisher’s rattle echoes down the waterway and two mallards paddle toward a brace of serviceberry shoots. To my right, a handsome young couple poses for a photographer in front of a massive cottonwood, the boy’s arm looped snugly around his fiancee’s shoulder. I hear tapping, and turn to see a bearded man making his way up a wooded path, his white cane bobbing ahead of him like a dowsing rod.
It’s spring, and the air is heavy with the smells of sticky, unfolding leaves and new blossoms and wet, loamy soil. A train whistle groans through the air then lifts away, and now I can hear the laughter of three tousle-haired children who’ve entwined themselves like spider monkeys in the rust-colored steel slats of the footbridge.
“Archimedes, no!” hollers a ruddy-cheeked girl as a well-groomed, pointy-faced, toy poodle blasts out of the woods, screeches to a halt in front of my bench, and bares its teeth at me.
Archimedes? Pretty hefty name for a dog who looks like a squirrel with a bad perm.
“Come here, Archimedes,” the girl says, and swoops the yipping, snarling little guy into her arms. Another young woman, her auburn hair braided into a single, thick rope down her back, lies on a blanket, chin cupped in her hands, studying a spiral-bound notebook. One leg is bent at a ninety-degree angle, and a leather shoe dangles from her big toe. Someone shouts—an exhilarated, high-pitched yelp—as a kayak whizzes by in a blur of color, paddles gyrating like huge whirligigs.
I love it here. I feel as grounded in this place as I do in my own home.
My first glimpse of Greenough came many years ago during a weekend I spent visiting a UM student—a wide-shouldered, blue-eyed boy with a shock of blonde hair and an engaging, irrepressible laugh. He drove me through the park—you could do that back then—and I was enchanted with this rough-hewn arboretum—a juniper and maple-studded oasis a few blocks north of the center of town. My romance with the boy didn’t last, but my relationship with the park was to endure, grow, and nurture me for the next thirty-five years.
As young parents, my husband, Ron, and I brought our son and daughter to Greenough Park for picnics when they were toddlers. I remember their cornsilk hair and round, guileless faces, their chubby hands clutching apple wedges and peanut butter sandwiches the size of postage stamps. After enduring lunch with their parents, they would race off to the real order of business: sitting astride the water-spouting cement turtles; hurling stones and pine cones into the water; or prowling the creek banks, eyes peeled for the tiny, florescent-striped garter snakes they loved to catch and release. And while our children played, my husband and I would talk, because Greenough Park is a talking kind of place.
Each October for several years, my sister Molly and I spent one perfect, blue-skyed morning gathering horse chestnuts in the park. Serious—almost ceremonial—we’d riffle through fallen leaves until we uncovered our quarry, nestled like jewels, all waxy, reddish-brown, and opalescent.
One year a woman approached us, eyes bright with curiosity, her large, olive-drab trench coat flapping in the gentle breeze. “What do you do with those chestnuts?” she demanded, and Molly gave me a furtive, worried look. Was this against the law?
We did nothing with the chestnuts. We just wanted them. The chestnuts were exquisite, that’s why, and gathering them gave us an excuse to while away an autumn morning, unfettered by the everyday demands of our young families.
“Oh,” I said, averting my eyes from Molly’s, “we bake’em and eat ‘em.” Molly’s elbow jabbed into my side. Paddy! Why did I lie? Who knows—maybe I couldn’t find the words I needed to explain the simple truth.
Volleyball teams and church camps cook thousands of hamburgers, frankfurters, and chickens near the covered pavilion while children swarm over the swings and climbing forts and dogs sniff the charcoal-and-meat-tinged air; families gather here to toss Frisbees or throw baseballs; high school cross country track-star hopefuls thunder down the paved trails, all piston arms and Roadrunner legs, numbered, school-color team jerseys plastered to their sweaty backs. Couples celebrate weddings at Greenough Park; sometimes the bride, under a white trellis banked with wildflowers, says her vows with one eye on the groom and the other on a dark, rumbling sky.
Once, in the pre-dawn murk of a winter morning, I spotted a pygmy owl on a bare maple tree branch, ruffled and hunched against the frigid air. On another, warmer day I watched park officials try to coax a black bear and her two cubs down from a Ponderosa pine. And a few seasons back, an enormous hunk of ice tore loose upstream and ripped its way down the creek, uprooting all vegetation in its path.
Nailed to trees, hunkered down under bushes, or dotted along the trails are laminated signs and metal plaques containing information and renderings of Greenough Park’s native denizens: woods rose, pea-trees, Bohemian waxwings, burr oak, and pileated woodpeckers, among others. Embedded beside Rattlesnake Creek is a unique, arresting piece of art—a chunky, slate-blue boulder, its topside studded with a jewel-toned bull trout mosaic.
Greenough Park is the place you take your out-of-state friends to impress them with western Montana’s natural beauty. It’s where you go to eat your lunch, read the newspaper, or propose to your girlfriend. I’ve run through the park, and walked, and cross-country skied. Snow-shoed, rollerbladed, and chased my errant Labrador. I’ve pushed a stroller through the park, and a flat-tired bicycle, and a wheel chair. The first, sad and eery morning after a freak June blizzard, I climbed through Greenough Park’s wreckage, my throat swelling with sorrow as I surveyed smashed robins’ eggs and ice-edged leaves tossed in heaps against felled branches, limbs, and sometimes, whole trees.
From my bench I watch a scowly-faced kid in raggedy jeans who is trying to untangle a Gordian knot of fishing line. The sight nudges my brain and I smile, remembering the long-ago afternoon I spear-fished in the creek, face mask fogging up and fins flopping as I floated over a deep hole, aiming a sling-shot, harpoon-like contraption at several bemused bottom-feeders.
Greenough Park is my next-door neighbor, my extended backyard, my thinking place. It’s where I try to walk each morning, and it’s my safe, soft harbor at day’s end, full of secrets and comforts and treasures.
I love it here.
Unforgettable: Ham Salad Sandwiches
Greenough Park brings back memories of the birthday parties of my childhood. I grew up in Missoula during the Depression years of the 1930s and the war years of the 1940s. My dad was an out-of-work railroader who took on any job to feed and clothe my brother and me and our grandmother and great-grandmother, so money was almost non-existent in our household.
However, lack of money didn’t stop Grandma from creating a very special birthday each year. The day before, she would bake a cake and boil eggs and grind up ham for her special ham salad sandwiches. Early on the morning of the great day, she would make up dozens of sandwiches and wrap them in damp dish towels. (If waxed paper was available, we couldn’t afford it.) Then she would squeeze lemons for lemonade and add a chunk of ice from the block in our ice box. The cake, sandwiches, and lemonade would be carefully packed into our little red wagon (we didn’t own a car), and we were ready to head to Greenough Park for the party.
Since we lived on the 400 block of Alder Street, getting to the park was half the fun. Grandma must have looked like the Pied Piper as she pulled the wagon east down Railroad Avenue followed by more than a dozen small children. On past the Northern Pacific Depot we trekked and over to Van Buren Street, where we turned north to pass the brewery and the entrance to Waterworks Hill. Then we were in the park and on the path to the picnic area.
There was a covered table and benches, a small merry-go-round, and swings, and surely there were gifts, but I mostly remember the delicious sandwiches and cake. Nothing has ever tasted so good! Seventy years later, whenever I eat a ham salad sandwich, I remember a beautiful June day and a birthday party at Greenough Park.
Moms Calling, Dinners Cold
For us kids growing up in the lower Rattlesnake in the ’60s and ’70s, Greenough Park was adventure. Riotously green in spring, luminous in winter, “The Park” kept our moms calling and our dinners cold. The trees were stories tall, Rattlesnake Creek lively and clear, trout hovered along shady banks. Limits were quickly met with a fly rod. All manner of wildlife—bears included—could be foraging behind walls of green. One morning I saw a red fox. Hobos were known to sleep there. You had to be on alert.
In winter we’d skate the creek bridge to bridge; in summer we made home movies of a “jungle” expedition. At age ten I tried my first climbing rope on a rocky road cut. We caught fish with our bare hands, tossing suckers ashore, and when the creek jumped its banks, we used worms to lure lunkers. Snakes, even birds, were brought home. We rolled in stinging nettles and smoked “monkey weed.”
Deep within the unkempt north [of the park] we discovered a hollow cottonwood that held our entire club. Idiotically, we tried to further hollow the tree with fire (as seen on TV), which ruined our fort. Hard lesson learned.
Inner tubing Rattlesnake Creek at night—in high water—is one of the more memorable outings we had. We knew the general reaction should we drown: “Damn fools!” Icy water knocked us unconscious when we flipped in rapids, and I recall a profound sense of calm before waking facedown near the lower walking bridge. Parents weren’t told and we’d go again.
Still today, a way out West, The Park is calling.
Mike Kellog ’83
O Sister, Where for Art Thou?
Probably the best times we had in Greenough Park were high-water inner-tube excursions in the early ’80s. Pretty much every Friday in May someone would buy a keg of beer (Old Milwaukee-$24) and announce there’d be an afternoon party at Kiwanis Park. The Merry Pranksters soccer club would bring a ball, someone would start a volleyball game, and the rest of us would stake out the baseball field.
On those hot spring afternoons in Missoula some of us just loved to cool off by taking inner tubes down Rattlesnake Creek to its confluence with the Clark Fork River; then we’d be on our way to the festivities at Kiwanis.
The Rattlesnake at high-water is pretty bouncy, very fast, and a damn cold stream. We didn’t have to steer too much because the only hazards were a concrete block with a protruding piece of rebar immediately upstream from the Apple Tree Restaurant and, at extreme water, the Front Street Bridge, which required ducking, not steering, to negotiate.
On most occasions, there was a pretty good-sized crew who ventured on the ’Snake together. However, on one particular afternoon—I recall the weather was burning hot like Jamaica—only me and my beloved Rie Hargraves ’82 journeyed up into Greenough. That burning sun had the mountain snow cascading down the Rattlesnake. Little whitecaps formed on clear blue water. It was sheer madness racing toward the river.
There was a tree down across the creek in the middle of Greenough Park, so we opted for a put-in a hundred yards above the lower Greenough walk bridge. Our inner tubes must have been pick-up truck tubes—not all that big, so when inflated were a bit lopsided. Okay, WAY lopsided. To ride one of those round boats, one needed to install one’s self securely butt down, head on the fat end, feet over the skinny—no real opportunity for compromise or adjustment.
This was Rie’s maiden Rattlesnake voyage, so I, being the veteran of the excursion, volunteered to launch first. It took approximately two and a half seconds for me to realize that the water was much too high, and my tube way too uneven to provide the usual steady ride.
“Rie,” I hollered immediately, glancing back upstream, “Don’t go!”
Unfortunately, Rie had launched a mere two seconds after me. There would be no turning back. Being experienced with all manner of unusual watercrafts, I found if I relaxed and let the river flow (as though I had a choice) I would be fine. Rie, however, being a lop-sided inner-tube novice, expected balance. That was her mistake. Within seconds, Rie was in the drink, grasping her runaway tube, dragging feet and bouncing knees off slippery Rattlesnake rocks.
“Let’s get out,” I hollered upstream.
“You’re crazier than a box of valve stem cores!”she yelled back.
There was some peril in being dragged mercilessly down this frigid stream. Happily, however, our friend Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs ’82, M.A. ’84 was out enjoying her afternoon stroll through Greenough Park. Why Stephenie was there at this time we still don’t know. (Steph herself and her entire family, dogs included, were regarded as legendary Big Blackfoot canoeists, but she was never a Rattlesnake tuber.) However, there she was—long stick in hand—the hero of the day. Rie abandoned her ship, grabbed the stick, and pulled herself to the safe harbor of the banks.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of the rescue, rolled along, bounced off of the concrete block, saluted the diners at the Apple Tree Restaurant, and was positioned in left field by the next inning at Kiwanis.
Tony Moore ’82
Lover’s Lane and “Reverie”
As young teenagers during the early 1930s, some of my friends and I would ride our bikes to a wooded area along Rattlesnake Creek known as Greenough Park and have a “wiener roast.” We’d build a fire, roast marshmallows and hot dogs, and generally explore the area. We got to know every trail and detail of the park, which, at that time, was quite undeveloped. Sometimes we’d stay till well after dark sitting around the fire talking.
During these times, we discovered that the park also served as a “Lover’s Lane” for some of the more amorous young men and women of Missoula. It was great sport for us to harass these romantic couples by doing such things as tossing pebbles of gravel onto the hoods of their cars or emitting wolf whistles in the nearby woods. On several occasions we were spotted and got chased by an irate male “smoocher.” Considering our knowledge of the park, an after-dark chase was entirely futile on the part of the chaser. In fact, one chaser made a wrong turn and found himself waist-deep in the waters of a dark pond. His verbal response to that predicament can best be described as crude and uncouth.
We probably overdid it though when one of our members found a bugle and brought it to the park. After dark on a warm summer night he singled out an unsuspecting couple’s car and cautiously sneaked up on it. ... Nightly police patrols after that incident caused us to amuse ourselves elsewhere.
Bob Van Gieson
A Symphony of Water
I first came to know Greenough as an undergraduate in the late 1960s. ... Being part of the bicycling boom of the late ’60s and early ’70s, my cycling on the upper and lower Rattlesnake took me through the park regularly. A friend of mine rented a little cabin on upper Jackson Street and it became a welcome refuge from the rigors of dorm life. I inherited rental of the cabin at the turn of the decade and it became the first of several residences for me in the lower Rattlesnake over the course of seven years.
There was always the sound of the stream, especially in spring when the Rattlesnake was a raging torrent and the network of irrigation ditches and raceways through the neighborhood began to flow. It was a symphony of water: the basso roar of the main creek and the gentle, laughing babble of the raceways. In the spring, the neighborhood orchards and apricot trees blossomed out. Jumbo’s grassy slope was spangled with such a profusion of wild flowers that I remember you could smell their heady nectar from the cabin. The park, too, was an explosion of buds and birds and leaves and flowers. A popular meeting place for students of the era and other folks—hoboes, hippies, artists, local working people—was near the park footbridge. A guitarist would strum, Frisbees float lazily on the pungent spring air. Now and then somebody would come flying down the creek on an inner tube.
Fall in the park was memorable, too. There was nothing like a moonlit ride on my trusty French touring bike through the park on a crisp September or October night with wood smoke in the air. I remember how on those nights Lolo Peak hung luminous white on the southern horizon, like Mount Fuji over the town.
James Hilgemann ’72
St. Paul, Minnesota
A group of UM students—perhaps two carloads—had a picnic. We had ample beer. There was some sort of a suspension structure across the river—perhaps a fence line on steel cables. As the evening progressed, emboldened by a young male’s tendency to show off, I attempted to reach the opposite bank. I did not succeed. Drenched and cold, I removed my pants and rolled up in a blanket and rigged up some support out of branches to dry my pants on. Not long after this, the stench of burning fabric assailed our nostrils. When I got my date home and got to my residence, there were a few fraternity brothers still up to take notice of my pants—part of a leg burned off.
My instant nickname at the Phi Delta was “Hot Pants.” Thankfully, soon afterward I got another one and Hot Pants was forgotten.
Tom Regan ’41
While I enjoyed many facets of Greenough Park, this park remains in my memory as the ultimate dog-training tool.
When both my Boston terrier dogs were young, a walk through the twisting, looping paths was a wonderful treat for those doggy senses. So many exciting scents! However, if a puppy strayed too far ahead and out of sight, I’d turn around, backtrack a short ways, and hide behind a bush or tree at the side of the trail. Being a young, pack-oriented animal, the puppy would quickly realize she was alone and come running back to find me.
Paula Anderson ’89
I grew up on McLeod Avenue in Missoula and was part of a wonderful small pack of friends who freely roamed the neighborhood picking apples, gathering hollyhocks in the alleys, roller skating to Bonner Park, and reading library books up in our favorite trees.
Beth Briggs was a year older than the rest of us and very talented. She choreographed story ballets that we performed in our back yards, wearing old curtains and clothes gathered from our basements. It must have been 1949, the summer before my seventh-grade year at Paxson, that Beth came up with an intriguing idea to liven up our daily routine. Why not put an ad in the Missoulian’s classifieds saying: WANTED-ADVENTURE and list Beth’s phone number?
Since we often rode our bikes across the Van Buren Bridge to Greenough Park for picnics, I think we had some vague notion that this prospective “adventure” might involve a rendezvous there, though we had not really thought through phase two. One thing we were sure of: none of our parents ever read the classifieds.
But, of course, Beth’s father (a law school professor) did read the classifieds that morning, noticed his phone number, and called Beth to the breakfast table for an explanation. We have all wondered in the years since, what adventure might have awaited us, if only the ad could have run another day.
Colleen Higgins Nicholson ’59
Seeley Lake, Montana
TThe first real memory of I have of the park is a birthday party when I was about four. ... Two years ago my niece Amy, who was ten, got to see the park from my perspective. Even though I was fifty-two at the time, I took my shoes and socks off and went wading. What was fun was seeing my niece enjoy the creek like my sister and I always have.
I remember Granny Ruth talking about the Greenough family when the mansion was in the park. Granny worked at the Missoula Mercantile and knew many of the family by name. Granny Ruth introduced my mom and my aunt to the park in the late ’40s. They introduced my sister and me and we introduced the fourth generation to the wonders and quiet beauty of the park. My niece will be visiting the park again this summer and can’t wait to wade in the creek. Four generations of women and one great park.
Melanie Tondreau ’72
As children about seventy-five years ago we were glad if we could convince our father to drive through Greenough Park. It seemed a magical place to enter. We often stopped just inside the entrance. On the left, there was what we had been told was a bear cage that was part of a menagerie that no longer existed.
If permitted, we would walk across the lawns to be near the Rattlesnake, which flowed clear and shallow there. Often we searched for small water snails in their tiny, sand-covered shells. We called them periwinkles and their construction seemed a marvel of engineering.
Further along, we would come to a bridge where our father stopped the car while we pretended to be aboard a ship on a perilous crossing, the water rushing beneath us. There were places on the unpaved road where branches reached out toward us and marvelous images were conjured up in the brief glimpses into the deep woods.
There was a picnic place near the exit that had been a pavilion built by Mrs. Greenough for summer night dancing, which eventually led to a certain degree of stylish carousing. Mrs. Greenough canceled the whole business and the pavilion became a picnic shelter with tables and benches. Eventually a wonderful children’s “go-round” was installed, and if we stopped there we scuffed our shoes as we whirled around in what seemed a vast circle ... the park and its enchantments remain indelible in my memory.
Lucie Hagens ’41
La Crescenta, California
Saturday Morning Greenough Park
a quiet spot
into by chance
of water moving
the end of summer
a rotted log
in the midst
of standing trees
here with this ink
as my thought
makes its shaky
David Thomas ’69
Greenough Park Early March 2002
the frozen morning
my boots squeak
of other feet
of feet echo
in the frigid
but in this moment
of snow falling
in sparse easy flakes
I am alone
in the naked trees
David Thomas ’69
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