By Katie Davidson
Having to haul a set of bleachers on a flat-bed trailer for 60 miles wasn’t going to stop Joe Zimmer and his public works team from bringing a new softball complex to the City of Bigfork.
“We were hogging the whole highway,” says Zimmer, Bigfork’s public works manager. “We just kind of propped it up on there and figured out a way to tie it down. We got it back in one piece.” Prior to the building of Bigfork’s new softball field, the city was limited to one field at the school, which could only be used by school teams. Zimmer had been involved with the area’s softball league for 30 years and wanted to share the sport with the next generation of Bigfork athletes.
He saw an opportunity while doing consulting work for the City of Littlefork. He noticed an unattended field that the city was no longer using. Littlefork had intended to tear down the field’s bleachers and fencing in order to make space for a disc golf course. Zimmer approached the mayor.
“When we found out there was an opportunity to partner with [Littlefork] and to take advantage of something they were getting rid of, it became a win-win,” says Bigfork Mayor Bryan Boone.
Some constituents were concerned about allocating taxpayer dollars toward the building of the field. Bigfork officials got resourceful.
The city tapped into the Bigfork Valley Community Foundation for some funding. It also turned to gambling tax funds: Bigfork Wilderness Bar offers pull-tab gambling and is required to dedicate funds toward recreational purposes in Bigfork.
“It was a way for us to provide something for the community that wasn’t costing us taxpayer dollars, but was an option for young adults,” Boone says.
The project was paid for in stages. First came the parking lot, then the field, and finally the dugouts. Zimmer estimates the total project came to around $52,000, but the city saved about $10,000 on labor by using the high school’s shop class and a work crew from Togo’s Minnesota Correctional Facility. Zimmer guesses the 10-man work crew put up nearly 1,000 feet of fence in just one day.
“They were enjoying it; nobody balked at it,” Zimmer says. “When we got the fence all done it was kind of like, ‘Yeah! We accomplished something today.’”
The shop class students were responsible for building the field’s dugouts, one of which was wiped out by a storm when it was half completed. The blocks were knocked off, the framing was twisted up, but Zimmer described the storm as “not too bad” of a setback.
“I think most of the kids thought, ‘OK, we get to do it all over again.’ They were even better at it the second time.”
When asked what it was like to see not only his community but outside groups come together to create something for the area, Boone reacted as if it was second nature.
“It’s what we do,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons that our town is so great. If we’re going to do more than just survive and we’re going to thrive, we have to come together or we’re going to sink.”
The field was first used in the summer of 2022 when residents organized T-ball and baseball leagues for students. Boone says the city plans to bring in adult softball leagues in 2023.
Zimmer didn’t hesitate when asked if the new field could be used by other communities.
“Oh, absolutely,” he says. “When you have community things going on in Bigfork, it doesn’t just mean Bigfork; it means Effie, it means Togo, it means Wirt. These people are all invited to this community.”
Katie Davidson is communications coordinator with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 281-1203.