No, Great Falls doesn’t have an Olive Garden.
Or a Red Lobster.
Or even an IHOP.
But what we do have is something a lot more nourishing – a fabulous trail system and some amazing city parks. Fifty-seven of them in fact.
A little more than two years ago, my daughter Amara and I set out to visit every one of Great Falls’ parks, a mission we finally completed this Father’s Day. This journey took my 4-year-old sidekick and I to almost every Great Falls neighborhood, including areas of my community that I had never explored before even though I’ve lived here for 20 years.
Russell Park had some of the coolest playground equipment around, including a giant ladybug and a snail just waiting for you to jump on and ride.
Surrounded by a sea of Amara’s plastic princesses, we had a picnic and tea party at Westwood Park, smelled flowers and splashed in the water at Sight & Sound Park and chased butterflies at Sandhills Park.
And all along the way we burned a lot of energy and made some new friends, too.
Amara Ochsner enjoys the awesome playground equipment at Russell Park. (Photo: Matt Ochsner photo)
Sometimes it took some work. A few of these parks aren’t all that easy to find. Do you know where Bloomingdale Park is or Madison Park or Horizon Park? We certainly didn’t and occasionally drove around aimlessly until Amara eventually would ask, “Dad, do you need your talking phone?” (her term for my iPhone and the Google maps app).
Yes, sometimes I did.
When we finally pulled up to Eagles Crossing Park after a few too many detours, Amara happily announced, “See Dad, you’re not a failure after all,” which I took as the ultimate vote of confidence.
We discovered some of the parks in the more affluent neighborhoods were almost completely empty during our visits while others in traditionally lower-income areas like Rhodes Park were filled with children – a reminder just how important these parks are.
Our favorite park? That’s easy – it’s actually the first park Amara and I explored together before she could even stand: Sunnyside Park. It was a 20-second walk from our first home in Great Falls, and we spent countless hours there swinging with Lulu bear, going down the slide together and playing with the “big kids” in the neighborhood. My wife Kim and I took our dog Bailey for about 2 million laps around that park before Amara ever arrived, and we still go back occasionally to say hello to our old neighbors, Chuck and Judy, and check in on those “big kids.”
When we tell people about our park adventures, time and time again Amara and I get the same response: “I had no idea Great Falls has 57 parks.”
Well, it does and they’re all waiting for you and your family to explore.
Amara and I have some great memories, tons and tons of photos (as my Facebook friends can attest) and plenty of fun stories to share after our park excursions. And it’s kept an extremely active 4-year-old from tearing down our house and Mom and Dad from tearing out their hair.
Amara and I became best friends during this journey as well.
No, Great Falls doesn’t have an Olive Garden or a Red Lobster or an IHOP.
But it does have some wonderful adventures awaiting at a neighborhood park.
And that’s way better for you than a never-ending pasta bowl will ever be.
Matt Ochsner is an audience analyst and digital editor at the Great Falls Tribune. A complete list of our city parks is available from Great falls Parks & Rec