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Story Mill Community Park

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Limits disturbance, with 45% of park construction occurring within previously developed areas of the site. 53% of the 60-acre site was untouched by construction.
  • Increases ecological quality as demonstrated by a Floristic Quality Index (FQI) value in the restored riparian buffer that is 3.4 times higher than an unrestored portion of the river (17.4 compared to 5.1).
  • Supports at least 156 observed bird species, 16 of which are listed as Species of Concern or Potential Species of Concern in Montana.
  • Reduces temperatures at the playground with preserved trees by an average of 12% as compared to a nearby playground without preserved tree canopy. “Tree shade and canopy” was the top reason that surveyed visitors gave for preferring Story Mill Community Park over other Bozeman parks.
  • Sequesters an estimated 1.6 tons of atmospheric carbon annually in 132 preserved trees in the 20-acre active recreation park zone. 61% of trees previously on-site were preserved within the 20-acre active zone, where most new surfaces and furnishings are located.
  • Reuses 15,000 cu yds of excavated soil and 500 cu yds of rubble from river and wetland restoration to create topographic site features, saving 620 trips to the nearest landfill.


  • Attracts an estimated 11,600 visitors per week in summer months, including over 260 that participate in new community center programming. The park’s pavilions received 396 rentals over a period of 1 year.
  • Encourages active recreation and alternative modes of transportation, with 34% of 147 surveyed visitors reporting that the park has contributed to an increase in their household’s biking. Respondents who live within 2 miles report biking, walking, or running to get to the park 61% of the time.
  • Provides unique educational and cultural value, with a high proportion of 145 surveyed visitors agreeing that hand-illustrated signage (67%), custom playground equipment (52%), and place-based sculptures (52%) have helped them understand the site’s ecological and/or cultural heritage.
  • Positively impacts visitors’ physical and mental health. Of 105 surveyed visitors, 26% described active recreation uses, 21% described psychological aspects, and 18% described socialization as the top ways the park has benefitted their life.
  • Celebrates naturalized views and character, with mountain views and ecological character cited as top aspects that attract people to the park according to 137 surveyed visitors.
  • Provides park access within a 10-minute walk (half-mile) for 317 housing units and 172 businesses. 80% of these residences do not have another playground within a half-mile, and 56% of the businesses do not have another park within a half-mile.
  • Supports multigenerational use, with 99% of 144 surveyed visitors agreeing that the park accommodates all ages, especially through diversity of programming, trail design, and seating. Over 4 summer days, each age category made up at least 10% of the 1,505 people observed recreating in the park, and all ages were observed engaging with the playground.
  • Serves as an exemplary park, with 66% of survey participants preferring Story Mill over other Bozeman parks for its trees, aesthetic qualities, and playground design. An adjacent residential development features the park in 40% of its website’s marketing photos.


  • Helped catalyze 65 new properties within a half-mile of the park which contributed over $580,000 in city and county tax revenue in 2022, almost three times the tax revenue from these same parcels before the park was built in 2018.
  • Accounts for 22% of the City's total annual rental income from Bozeman’s parks. Just 2 years after opening it was the highest earning Bozeman park for outdoor facilities rental income.
  • Spurred development of 31 below-market rate homes within a 5-minute walk to the park, increasing the total number of single family below-market-rate homes available in 2022-2023 by 100%. Bozeman’s second community housing trust was established as part of the development.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Design Workshop

  • Project Type

    Nature preserve
    Park/Open space
    Stream restoration

  • Former Land Use

    Agricultural/Light Industrial/Residential

  • Location

    698 Bridger Drive
    Bozeman, Montana 59715
    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    60 acres

  • Budget

    $6.5 million

  • Completion Date

    Summer 2019

Sitting at the feet of the Bridger Mountains and adjacent to a historic wheat mill at the heart of the city’s former agricultural center, Story Mill Community Park in Bozeman, Montana encompasses 60 acres that are owned and operated by the City of Bozeman as the city’s largest park. The Trust for Public Land acquired the property following a 2008 foreclosure when plans for a large mixed-use development fell through and worked closely with the Bozeman community to develop a park concept. The park’s 40-acre nature preserve is located amidst restored wetlands, preserved forests, and the East Gallatin River which runs through the site, while a 20-acre programmed area includes myriad features to engage community members of all generations and accommodate community gatherings. A trail system throughout the park incorporates historic rail corridors and a farmstead, includes locally made sculptures and interpretive signage, and connects to city and regional trails. A new Community Center, incorporated into the park as an adaptive reuse of an adjacent property, and winter park features allow the City to expand programming and education year-round.

  • Build a flagship asset for Bozeman’s Parks, Recreation, and Trails system that is well-connected to the urban core to ensure nearby nature as Bozeman continues to grow.
  • Utilize a community-engaged design process from planning through stewardship to establish a park with program and design detail informed by users and local organizations.
  • Restore disturbed habitats including wetlands, riparian areas, grasslands, shrublands, and aspen forest patches to enhance habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife.
  • Improve the East Gallatin River corridor through wetland and stream restoration.
  • Incorporate passive recreation and education for people to experience the valley’s rivers, natural habitats, and views of the surrounding mountains that characterize Bozeman’s ecological story.
  • Develop active parkland for multi-generational use including play areas, covered picnic areas, trails, restrooms, and other amenities.
  • Support multi-modal transportation infrastructure and recreation with a trail network that will provide a central hub for U.S. Forest Service trail systems, fishing access sites, other city trails and parks, and downtown Bozeman. 
  • Celebrate and reveal the site’s agricultural and industrial heritage in the wheat and cattle industries that drove Bozeman’s growth in the 19th and 20th centuries and preserve remnant and healthy natural features.
  • The site has 40 acres of nature sanctuary with almost 15 acres of wetlands, over 4,000 ft of riverfront, aspen groves, and open meadows. Riparian areas, upland meadows, and woodland understories were restored using microclimate seed mixes with over 24 different species and live stakes. Wetland area on-site more than doubled, and 1 linear mile of riparian zone was restored. 
  • 399 preserved trees and 613 newly planted trees, including Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides subsp. monilifera), and peachleaf willow (Salix amygdaloides), represent the local ecology.
  • 3 miles of interconnecting trails provide users with ample space to exercise, explore, and observe wildlife. These trails also serve as connections to other regional trails in Bozeman, in particular a safe connection to the ‘M’ trail which is located on U.S. Forest Service-owned land outside the city.
  • Play areas with features such as slides, a pump track for bicycles, ping pong tables, seating nooks, and a labyrinth facilitate interaction and play for people of all abilities and ages and incorporate custom Bozeman-inspired natural play features.
  • A custom climbing boulder was designed in collaboration with the local climbing community and constructed by a local fabricator. The Story Mill climbing boulder is one in a circuit of 9 boulders around Bozeman.
  • Over half an acre of learning garden and food forest provide fresh fruits and vegetables to community members in need through the Gallatin Valley Food Bank and Human Resources Development Council while also providing outdoor education programs on food security and urban agriculture.
  • 4 strategically placed pavilions allow a moment for rest or a break from the elements. The pavilions and playground make use of shade from preserved trees to enhance cooling.
  • A topographic focal point, accessed by a trail through the meadow and created using remnant soil spoil and construction waste found throughout the site, is used as a sledding hill and amphitheater. Over 2 acres of gathering lawn and the 4,325-sf hillside amphitheater and hardscape area accommodate larger group activities and shows.
  • Birding opportunities including a custom-designed bird blind structure and fishing access points along the restored riverfront allow obscured observation of wildlife.
  • 21 custom informational signs, covering a range of topics from pollinators to native bird species and animals to watershed dynamics, and 4 locally crafted environmental art pieces, including a large-scale steel Sandhill Crane, create an interactive and educational space.
  • Two parking lots with 89 stalls provide universal access to different active and passive zones of the park. The primary parking lot and main park entrance expanded upon an existing parking lot and driveway while enhancing the stormwater infrastructure with bioswales and trees.
  • A community center, which is an adaptive reuse of a former Boys & Girls Club building, houses several offices for the parks department, space for maintenance operations, a gymnasium, and an additional outdoor fenced playground in a 5-acre area of the park.

The park is in a valley central to Bozeman’s settlement and agriculture industry that is known for its fertile, water-rich land, surrounded by mountains. Native American tribes, including Bannock, Blackfeet, Crow, Flathead, Gros Ventres, Shoshone, and several other tribes camped in the valley as they moved to and from buffalo hunting grounds in the region. The first Euro-American explorer to come through the valley was Meriweather Lewis in 1805, who described it as “a smooth extensive green meadow of fine grass in its course meandering in several streams…and a distant range of lofty mountains ran their snow-clad tops above the irregular and broken mountains which lie adjacent to this beautiful spot.” With Euro-American immigration westward, Bozeman’s settlement in the 1860s focused on agricultural production to provide food for gold mining camps in greater Montana. Nelson Story, who invested heavily in Bozeman’s economy and land development, moved cattle from Texas to open the valley’s first ranching operation just north of the modern-day park. Later, a stockyard, the valley’s first auction yard, and a slaughterhouse were opened on the park site, making it a hub for commerce and technology. With the Northern Pacific Railroad expansion in 1882, Nelson Story built what at the time was Montana’s largest flour mill, which remains across the street from the park to this day. To power the mill, he financed the construction of the two-mile water canal that powered the mill until 1956 and gave Northern Pacific a right-of-way to build the Story Mill Spur to operate the mill. This spur was eventually converted to a Bozeman community trail that cuts through the present-day park.

More than half of the park is located within the Northern Pacific-Story Mill Historical District, listed with the U.S. National Park Service National Register of Historic Places. Although not within the park boundary, the historic Story Mill grain elevators can be seen from throughout the park and act as a cultural and wayfinding landmark. The Story Mill Spur railway was converted into a non-motorized trail in the 1990s that runs along the southeast area park and provides three trail access points into the park, greatly improving park connectivity to Bozeman’s northeastern residential neighborhoods and Main Street.

In 2006, a developer bought the property where the park and the Bridger View Neighborhood are now to build a development called Story Mill, with 1,200 homes and 140,000 sf of commercial space. But following the 2008 recession, the developer filed for bankruptcy and the bank foreclosed on the property. The property encompassed the Bridger View Trailer Park, and as a result, many of its residents were displaced after buyouts or evicted when the trailer park was abandoned due to unsafe living conditions. Eventually, the trailers were removed following the foreclosure before the Trust for Public Land bought the property from the bank.

Trust for Public Land and the community’s vision for the neighborhood redevelopment was to not only replace what the Bozeman community had lost, but to address Bozeman’s increasing challenges with housing affordability. At the same time that the 60-acre park area was planned and eventually turned over to the City of Bozeman, the Trust for Public Land worked with public organizations and private philanthropes to realize the remaining eight acres as a neighborhood focused on the benefits of nearby nature and sustainable design. The resulting neighborhood adjacent to the north part of the park, the Bridger View Neighborhood, is a mixed-income housing development that contains 62 homes, 31 of which were sold below market rates by Headwaters Community Housing Trust, a local nonprofit. The project was completed in 2023, and residents are actively utilizing park access points.

  • The nature sanctuary includes ecologically rich floodplain and wetland areas that are prone to wetness after heavy rainfall or winter snowmelt. The trails in the nature sanctuary were thoughtfully designed to avoid high-value, sensitive areas in terms of restoration or existing ecosystems while also choreographing the user experience for views, habitat observation, and water access. As a result, the design of the trails inevitably crossed some low areas, which is where boardwalks were specified. After most of the boardwalks were value engineered out, the trail layout was not redesigned or realigned. Therefore, some sections of the trails that are sited in low areas are difficult to use especially in the spring and may be prone to quicker degradation over time.
  • The park shares its north property boundary with a neighborhood development, Bridger View Neighborhood. Although both properties were owned by the Trust for Public Land, the park was designed on a different timeline than the neighborhood. The design team recognized the importance of congruent design for park access and lot layout transitions, and the approved site design specified a third parking lot for access to the northern programmed area of the park and a formal pedestrian access into the park’s east side. This parking lot was temporarily removed due to value engineering, and the neighborhood plan does not include street frontage along this edge of the park. Therefore, car access has been limited to the small parking lot off Story Mill Road and the main parking lot at the Community Center on Bridger Drive, which is often at capacity. In addition, the existing pedestrian access points from the neighborhood do not provide direct access to popular park areas like the playground and great lawn. As a result, several desire lines have been cut through naturalized planting zones, potentially impacting plant health and visual continuity.
  • Birding and birding education are significant benefits of the park, especially in the nature sanctuary area. A bird blind structure was constructed at a small trail spur in a wooded riparian area, and it has not performed entirely as intended. The bird blind structure is an elongated enclosure about the size of a small shipping container with semi-transparent walls and ceiling made from wooden slats. Three of the walls have picture window-like openings that were designed for bird viewing. Inside, there is bench seating and a wooden rest ledge for standing. Unfortunately, the open-air window openings in the walls, while aesthetically pleasing, are so large that when people enter or use the seating they scare off the birds, which somewhat defeats the structure’s purpose. Birders interviewed onsite expressed wishing that the slatted wall style was continuous so birds could be viewed through a slat at any eye level without disrupting bird behavior. An interpretive sign illustrated by a local artist shows birds common to this area, and members from the Sacajawea Audubon Society noted they regularly witness park users, especially children, pointing to birds on the sign and the birds they observe nearby.
  • The eastern and southern areas of the park property had some remnant historical structures related to farming and milling operations including a stockyard, chicken coop building, rendering plant, and two houses. The community was hoping to reuse and incorporate these structures into the site design. The design team explored reuse and consulted with a local engineering firm to conduct a structural assessment, and, in general, the historical structures were deemed to be safety hazards if left on site. They would have needed significant investment for long-term, adaptive reuse. The design team determined it to be unrealistic to keep the structures due to safety, structure longevity, and costs. Despite this, the design team did mark the locations of old structures using boulders and preserved vegetation, and the cultural history is illustrated in interpretive signage near these locations.
  • Because the park would become the largest park owned and operated by the City of Bozeman’s Parks and Recreation department, long-term operations and maintenance costs were a concern and considered throughout the design process. To ensure the City would have funding and capacity, the Trust for Public Land and the City of Bozeman established a $200,000 maintenance endowment allocated specifically to care for the park. This was important in responsibly transitioning the site ownership from the Trust for Public Land to the City. In addition, the establishment of the maintenance endowment also spurred a broader conversation among the design team and project partners for a larger strategy to address the City’s growing challenges with operations and maintenance of park assets city-wide. This was the initial force behind the eventual proposed Parks District, which was voter-approved in 2022.

Custom Play Features: Earthscape
Play Equipment: Kompan, Timberform
Benches: Forms+Surfaces
Site Furnishings: Pilot Rock, Dero Bike Station, Wishbone, Reliance Foundry
Boardwalks: Wickcraft
Restroom: CXT, Inc.
Playground Surfacing: SurfaceAmerica
Climbing Boulder Fabrication: Stronghold

Project Team

Landscape Architect: Design Workshop
Local Subconsultant Landscape Architect: Design 5
Architect: Intrinsik Architecture
Client: City of Bozeman
Civil Engineer, Traffic and Transportation, and Hydrology: Stahly Engineering
Structural Engineer: Stahly Engineering
Irrigation: Irrigation Services of Montana
Electrical Engineer: CDS Engineering
Wetland Engineer: RESPEC
Subconsultants: Learning by Nature, Biohabitats, Inc., ETM Associates, LLC, LSC Transportation Consultants, Inc.
Custom Play Feature Designer: Earthscape

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect (Design Workshop) acted as the lead designer for the project, facilitating extensive public engagement activities and expert focus groups to engage the community throughout the design process. The landscape architect coordinated the approval processes and oversaw construction on the project, which included numerous partnerships and community organizations. They also assisted with donor outreach and marketing support to gain support for realization of the complete design, which was a significant leap for the City of Bozeman’s park assets. The landscape architect also worked in coordination with local landscape architect (Design 5), who led early conceptual development and community engagement.


Land efficiency/preservation, Habitat quality, Populations & species richness, Temperature & urban heat island, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Reused/recycled materials, Recreational & social value, Cultural preservation, Health & well-being, Educational value, Scenic quality & views, Transportation, Access & equity, Other social, Visitor spending, Increased tax revenue, Economic development, Public art, Play equipment, Wetland, Trees, Trail, Bioretention, Native plants, Food garden, Educational signage, Active living, Aging, Biodiversity, Conservation, Cultural landscapes, Play, Restoration, Revitalization

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