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Helena historic one-mile race track nominated for National Register of Historic Places


June 5, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

Helena, MT (June 4) - At the June 3 Montana State Historic Review Board held at Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish, MT., the historic one-mile horse racing track at Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds, in Helena was nominated for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination was much to the delight of Save the Track Foundation advocates, who claim this a major victory in their quest to change the footprint plan for the fairgrounds back to the original drawing.

The original plans for fairgrounds improvement did not eliminate the race track, as the present remodeled plan does by placing an exhibit building right in the middle of the track.

The one-mile track, which is one of the three oldest horse racing tracks in the nation, has become the center of a legal battle between Lewis & Clark County officials versus historic preservationists, horseman, the agricultural community, and folks who feel they were misled by the pre-mill levy literature and want the footprint plan reversed.

The Committee voted unanimously to nominate the track and forward it to the keeper of the National Register, stating the "track is definitely worthy of recognition and preservation."

Paul Putz, L&C County Historic Preservation Officer, on behalf of the County pointed out some concerns about calling the wooden rails and the roadway around the track contributing structures in the nomination application. He said they aren't exactly the same. Kate Hampton, State SHPO Historian, said that being the same rails are only one of the criteria and if anything, they could change designation showing these structures as non-contributing.

Several committee members spoke up to say the track is the focus and that other properties nominated had new metal roofs or other improvements and were still approved to be nominated.

When Bob Fusie, representing the Lewis & Clark County Fairboard, spoke to the committee and said the track was "no longer in existence," Candy Score, with Save the Track Foundation, corrected that statement to the committee saying, "The track is indeed in place. The County Commissioners approved putting roadmix across and down the quarter mile stretch to allow cars to cross and park in the infield for last year’s Last Chance Stampede, but that can be repaired.”

Review Board member H. Rafael Chacon from Lolo asked Mr. Fusie if the track could be repaired, and Mr. Fusie said "yes," confirming that there is a "track."

This is a major step in saving a crown jewel of Montana history, and to return the track to many of its historical uses. This track can be part of the historic tour of Lewis & Clark County and the centerpiece of many activities utilizing the track and bringing in income, said Score.

Chere Jiusto recently gave a presentation to the Fairboard and County Commissioners listing the names, addresses and criteria for grants to improve and develop the track and fairgrounds, but they all hinge on the preservation of the track in its original form.

Ms. Score, on behalf of Save the Track Foundation, thanked and praised the work of Ellen Baumler, Kate Hampton, Carol Syness, Shirley Herrin, and Chere Jiusto for their involvement in preparing the paperwork for the nomination, and to the State Historic Preservation Review Board for their dedication to saving our Montana Treasures.

For more information on the track or to learn what you can do to help this effort, please contact www.savethetrackfoundation.com, or call Candy Score at 406-442-2890 or
Rhonda Strainer at 406-443-3662.