Missoula County Parks and Trails Honored Clayton Burtsfield with Steward Award

Left to right: Chris Hale (Parks and Trails Advisory Board chair), Clayton Burtsfield, Commissioner Dave Strohmaier

The Missoula County Parks and Trails Advisory Board named a longtime steward of the American Legion baseball complex and Big Sky Park as the 2021 Parks and Trails Steward.   

Board members and Commissioner Dave Strohmaier presented the award to Clayton Burtsfield on May 26, at Dale Dahlgren’s Baseball Complex, where he has dedicated countless hours over nearly four decades.

Burtsfield’s dedication to the complex began in 1983 when he, along with a group of legion baseball supporters, launched planning efforts for what is now the American Legion Baseball facility. He retains meeting notes from those early efforts and has continuously served the effort to build, improve and maintain that facility. 

“Clayton stands as an exemplary role model for many,” Parks and Trails Advisory Board member Bill Dahlgren said. “He was the official ‘note taker’ at the earliest meetings to move the Legion Baseball complex to its current location at Big Sky Park. He has done so much to advance the dreams of a first-rate baseball complex. Last summer the Mavs even dedicated their new indoor practice building as ‘The Clayton Burtsfield Warehouse.’ Now he’s receiving this added recognition, both well-deserved. We’re all lucky to have community volunteers like Clayton working to make Missoula a better place.” 

During the last four decades, Burtsfield has served in multiple volunteer roles to advocate for and advance the facility: organizing committee secretary, shovel-in-hand facility builder (from Day One), American Legion Post No. 27 baseball committee member, more than 25 years as the Northwest Regional American Legion A Baseball Tournament chair, Missoula Mavericks’ Big Sky Park Stewardship Committee representative, groundskeeper at the legion baseball facility and likely many roles not listed. 

A lease agreement was drawn up between the American Legion and Missoula County in 1984, at which time construction of the current facility began. The first legion baseball game was played at the site in June 1987. Big Sky Park’s playing facility is recognized as one of the finest in the Northwest. The complex was developed with private funds and is worth approximately $1.5 million. 

Big Sky Park spans 154-acres in the Target Range neighborhood, making it Missoula County’s largest park. Its amenities include baseball/softball fields, a community garden, competition-level equestrian facilities, natural surface trails and bird habitat. It is a cherished community resource that draws users from the entire Missoula Valley.  

A list of Steward Award recipients (2003 to 2020) is available on the Parks, Trails and Open Lands website.

Long overdue restoration underway for iconic Doughboy memorial

Doughboy statue on courthouse lawn
The World War I Doughboy memorial on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn is undergoing a grant-funded renovation, which includes cleaning and waxing the bronze, cleaning and repointing the granite base, and building a ground-level plaza so the statue is accessible to all.

Passed by the Missoula County Courthouse lately and wondered what’s going on with the historic World War I Doughboy memorial on the corner of Broadway and Ryman? You’re not the only one; the infamous chain link fencing surrounding the memorial has prompted numerous inquiries concerning the statue’s status.

Don’t worry  ̶  the Doughboy will not endure the same fate as the aging trees removed from the lawn last year. The statue, a tribute to the 39 Missoulians who lost their lives in the First World War, is undergoing a much-needed restoration, thanks to funding from 100 Cities/100 Memorials, a matching grant challenge spearheaded by the United States World War One Centennial Commission that’s funding restoration of WWI memorials nationwide.

According to the 100 Cities/100 Memorials website, the program “was created to help draw attention to WWI memorials across the United States and enables all of America to take part in the WWI centennial commemoration. Many of these WWI memorials have deteriorated due to the ravages of time, exposure to the elements, neglect and even vandalism.

“The funds will be used to conserve, restore or improve these memorials. More important, the program is designed to raise community awareness of those who served and provides a tangible connection to the profound impact this war had on local towns and cities, securing an important place in military history.”

Doughboy plaque
The bronze plaque memorializing the 39 Missoulians killed in the First World War.

Last year, the Missoula County Grants and Community Programs division, with the support of American Legion Post #27 and the Western Montana Military Officers Association, successfully landed one of these grants, one of only 100 in the country. Now, for the first time in more than 90 years, Missoula’s Doughboy bronze will be properly cleaned and waxed, so the names and language honoring the fallen servicemen will be easier to read. The county has partnered with Jackson Construction to complete the restoration, which also includes cleaning and repointing the statue’s granite base, as well as building a ground-level plaza to make the memorial accessible to all.

The memorial commemorates the significant role Montana and Missoula played in World War I. According to information provided by the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, when the U.S. entered the war in 1917, around 12,500 Montanans volunteered for military service, and another 28,000 men were drafted, due to the federal government overestimating the state’s population. In total, nearly 40,500 Montana men, roughly 10 percent of the state’s population, served “Over There”  ̶  the highest percentage of any state.

By the time the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, Montana had one of the highest mortality percentages in the country, with 939 servicemen killed in action, including 39 from Missoula. In 1927, the American Legion Auxiliary erected the Over the Top to Victory Doughboy Memorial Statue on the courthouse lawn to honor those killed in action. Sculpted by John Paulding, it’s one of only 55 such memorials across the country.

Dedication of statue Nov 11 1927_Missoulian.photo.11.11.2017 (002)
The Over the Top to Victory Doughboy memorial on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Missoulian)

For the past 30 Veterans Days, Missoula’s American Legion Forgotten Warriors Post 101 has sponsored a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial at 11 a.m., and they’ll continue that tradition on Nov. 11 this year. With the restoration work slated for completion by then, it’ll be the perfect opportunity for Missoula County residents to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during such a pivotal moment in our shared history.