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A Paw Park on the Prairie

A 2022 AARP Community Challenge grant helped create a place where Montana dogs — and their accompanying owners — can play

An illustration of the Cut Bank City Bark Park site plan, a dog at a fire hydrant, and a woman poses with pine tree plants

Images courtesy City of Cut Bank, Montana (2); fire hydrant photo by Kodiak Krapf

Clockwise from left: An illustration of the planned City Bark Park in Cut Bank, Montana. A dog makes use of an old fire hydrant that's been placed in the park. Mayor Kim Winchell poses with some of the spruce trees to be planted in and around the park.

When the mayor of Cut Bank, Montana (population 3,046) asked Kim Winchell to fill a vacant seat on the city council in 2021, she asked if he had confused her for another Kim. “I didn’t even know where City Hall was,” Winchell says. But she accepted the offer.

Bow Wow!

Six people pose in a metal shop with metal signs made for the City Bark Park

Photos courtesy Cut Bank City Bark Park

Students working in the metal shop at Cut Bank High School made the dog park signs.

Among its duties, the council is responsible for the city’s parks, including, Winchell learned, a dilapidated dog park.

“It wasn’t grassy. It had gopher holes everywhere, so you couldn’t walk without potentially twisting your ankle. The dog park upgrades were on no one’s radar. It was merely a conversation of, ‘Oh, we've got a dog park, but there's nothing out there and nobody uses it,’ she explains. “It was a no brainer that our community as a whole would benefit from an upgraded dog park.”

In 2021, Winchell applied for an AARP Community Challenge grant, requesting funds to create a walking path, to fence in an area for small dogs, and add shade pavilions and plant trees. Cut Bank was not chosen for a grant, but the application process proved pivotal.

“Applying for the first grant sparked an interest in the community of like-minded folks who really wanted to see something better for the dog park,” says Winchell. “Since part of the grant asked about community involvement and volunteers, we started to raise money.” She created a Facebook page for the Friends of City Bark Park and funds starting coming in.

The city was soon able to fence off a small dog area within the dog park and plant 14 spruce trees. Winchell says the space for small dogs is a game changer.

“We have a senior apartment complex here in town, and they're allowed to have small dogs,” says Winchell. “But the complex itself isn't fenced in, so the small dog area will give the residents, some of whom have a hard time walking their dogs, a space where they can sit in the shade and let their little guys run without being around the giant dogs.”

In 2022, Winchell applied to the AARP Community Challenge again. The second attempt worked. AARP funds have been used to create a walking path, add ADA-compliant benches and build two shade pavilions.

Transforming a Floodplain Into a Dog Park

An outdoor pavilion and the Bark Park in Gulfport, Mississippi

PHOTOS FROM the City of Gulfport (GRANTEE, 2017, 2018, 2019 AARP COMMUNITY CHALLENGES)


The City of Gulfport has put its three AARP Community Challenge grants toward the revitalization of a waterfront space and neighborhood that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The grants have helped to remove invasive plant species, create a nature trail, add public seating, construct a pavilion that is used as an outdoor classroom and gathering space and, most impactfully, establish the city’s first dog park, the Bark Park, which opened in 2017 on land that is so flood prone that it’s no longer suitable for housing or businesses. The park closes when flood waters rise. When the area dries out, people and their pups return.

Watch an AARP video about the Bark Park’s opening day.

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Reporting by Amy Lennard Goehner | Page published May 2023

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