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Swan Valley (Condon) Has A New Ball Park!

A perfect setting with the Swan Front as a background

Bob Reed, left, and Barny Anthony at one of the new log-encased dugouts at the ball park. Reed and Anthony are Swan Valley American Legion Members, the group that spear-headed a six-year-long effort to build a new ball park for the kids.

A lot of people helped build Swan Valley Ball Park

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
August, 1996

Students and athletic clubs from Condon, Seeley Lake, Lincoln and Potomac enjoyed playing baseball at the new Swan Valley Community Ball Park at Condon this summer. Games played on this field are a far cry from the informal competitions and practices that used to take place just down the road on the Condon airstrip.

Baseball there gave new meaning to the term "fly ball" when coaches and players had to share space with airplanes. The airstrip was the only flat, cleared field in the area that was large enough to accommodate a baseball game, but the Forest Service frowned on activites there, for obvious reasons.

"We couldn't really organize before, because we lacked a facility," according to David Ash, Condon resident who has coached Little League for the past seven years. But Ash now believes Condon sports fans are ready for "a league of their own" thanks to the new ballfield.

"We now have one of the best ball parks in the state, as far as I'm concerned," Ash said. Even though the baseball programs at Condon have been "completely unorganized" in the past, no less than 50 kids turned out to play T-ball and Little League this summer, and Ash estimates that an equal number of adults are eager to organize a coed slow pitch league in the Swan Valley.

"There's definitely an interest in baseball here," Ash said. "Until now, we've always lacked a facility."

Construction of the new baseball diamond, located on Forest Service property just north of the Condon Work Center, is nearly complete. Buildings are finished except for the steps in the dugouts, some exterior painting, and minor construction at the park entrance, according to Bob Reed, American Legion Commander from Condon who has coordinated the project since 1992.

"We feel pretty good about everything," Reed said recently. The American Legion spearheaded the $20,000 construction effort and raised money through annual events, such as the Chili Cookoff held in March and the Pony Express Watermelon Races held on the Fourth of July. "Community money built the ball park," Reed said, referring to the donations that helped pay for things like electricity, a drilled well, grass seed, a sprinkler system and lawn tractor. Missoula County, through their Parks and Recreation program, provided $5,000 in government funds for the project. Missoula Electric Cooperative donated the large poles that support the backstop.

Local residents, assisted by "a bunch of kids," volunteered to help clear about five acres of Forest Service land that had been an old clearcut. They cut down trees, then removed stumps, rocks and debris. Loggers brought in heavy equipment to level the field and plant grass. Local carpenters helped build the log dugouts, concession stand, backstop and toilets. Students from the Mission Mountain School also pitched in. "They picked up lots of rocks and logs and did it willingly," Reed said.

Loggers and contractors were instrumental in helping to clear and level the new ballfield, Reed explained. They donated their crews in addition to equipment. "We couldn't have finished it without them," Reed said.

Although Reed is humble about his role in building the ball park, he acknowledges that "the old guys at the Legion" spent a lot of time working on the project during recent years.

Reed, who has served as American Legion Commander in the Swan Valley for about 10 years, heard about the need for a baseball field about six years ago.

"It all started in 1990 when Chris Goodman asked the Community Club if they'd sponsor a ball park," Reed explained. Reed was on the Community Club board at that time, and supported the proposal. "Chris worked on the idea for two years," Reed said, before he ran into a mountain of red tape and related paperwork.

At that time, Reed and other Legion members, decided they should get involved with the project. Most Legion members were active in the community and realized that the Legion's non-profit status and fundraising abilities might convince bureaucrats in Missoula County and the Forest Service that the park project was feasible.

"In order for the Legion to develop a ball park, we had to get around the government agencies," Reed said.

Legion members became educated about everything from risk management and liability insurance, to environmental impact statements. The Forest Service initially identified about 10 acres of land at the north end of the airstrip that could serve as a community park. However, because of the need for an environmental impact statement, the project size was reduced to five acres to eliminate unnecessary paperwork.

Missoula County, which provides some liability insurance for the facility, obtained a Special Use Permit from the Forest Service for recreational use of the area. The Legion now leases the park from Missoula County.

The Legion will continue to oversee the operation of the ball park, but Reed hopes that local athletic clubs will eventually take over most of the maintenance work, such as lawn mowing, painting, and general grounds upkeep.

"Us old guys aren't going to last forever," Reed chuckled. Long-term maintenance of the facility will depend on community volunteers and support. Annual expenses for the lease, insurance, electric bills, grounds upkeep and buildings maintenance, will total around $1,000 per year. Reed indicated that the Legion will continue to hold fundraisers to support the ball park and other community activities. In addition, they will apply for funds annually from Missoula County Parks and Recreation, specifically to support capital improvements at the ballfield.

According to David Ash, who has been involved in community baseball programs all his life, the Swan Valley community is ready and willing to help the Legion maintain the new facility. Ash said that he will hold meetings and begin to formally organize the baseball program at Condon later this winter. "Baseball is in my blood," he explained. "I really enjoy the game. I'd like to see kids enjoy the same things I did. Helping to organize baseball here just keeps the whole process going."

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