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White lines demarcate what will be a flower bed surrounding an Autumn Purple Ash tree that is one of the many plants that were donated to the Dakota Greens Boulevard Restoration Project. Photos by Alexia Beckerling

Local Builder, Volunteers Revive Abandoned Boulevard

Two blocks of abandoned boulevard on Missoula’s Dakota Street, a former wasteland, have been nurtured back to life by none other than waste — dirt, fill, sod, urbanite, millings and chopped up trees.

The Dakota Greens Boulevard Restoration, a project completed last week and marked by a Thursday celebration, was headed up by Steven Loken, owner of neighboring Loken Builders, an environmentally conscious construction company.

“It’s interesting what’s considered waste material,” Loken said. “It’s only waste if you have no use for it. Once there is a use, it becomes a resource.”

Last August, Loken began cleaning up the two blocks right outside Loken Builders’ Dakota Street office, off Russell Street. What you see now is Dakota Street on one side of the boulevard and a bike trail on the other, but an asphalt street that Loken calls a “mistake” used to run between them. “In its abandonment, it kind of screamed for help,” he said.

  Jimmie Dalton, 9, lives across the road from the Dakota Greens Boulevard. He is really excited about the park and is one of a number of neighborhood kids who spend their spare time helping Loken Builders complete the project.

The first step was to remove the road. The asphalt has not completely disappeared, though. It was ground up, and the millings now make up the path that connects the bike trail to Dakota Street.

Such material recycling was crucial to the project. Loken spread the word that he could use excess materials from other jobs around the city. Extra dirt, fill and sod dropped off at Dakota Greens allowed for the small hills. Landscapers contributed organic material. Dead trees-turned-mulch, mixed with carbon-sequestering mushrooms, circle the boulevard’s trees. Broken up sidewalk, called urbanite, is in the landscaping. Loken said they salvaged wild, native grasses as well.

“Oddly enough, rocks can be waste material,” Loken said. He designed the area to have three French drains made with the rocks, since the city doesn’t have the money to install pipes and drains. The drains allow water to rejoin the aquifer by simply seeping back into the ground.

  Bob Johnson from Innovative Landscapes applies a wood-based hydromulch to fertilize the seeds of plants that are drought tolerant and representative of local flora such as gulf annual rye, sheep fescue and prairie junegrass.

With the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and a neighborhood grant chipping in more than $20,000 and allowing Loken to connect to its irrigation system, he calls it a model private/public partnership. Generally speaking, the public sector often lacks the money for such projects and the private sector has little incentive to do the work.

About 70 volunteers from the neighborhood (including children) and the University of Montana worked on the restoration, plus some of Loken’s regular employees and community service workers, one of whom was so enthusiastic Loken hired him. A total of about $35,000 in in-kind donations came in from Loken Builders and other local businesses, including labor.

Missoula resident Robyn Price watched the restoration from the nearby River House. “It’s uplifting and lively. We get some trees and some shade,” she said. “I think it will be great for future patients and people who use the river trail.”

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