Old Butte dump to transform into BMX course

September 14, 2016 GMT

BUTTE — A Montana State University architecture professor is directing a reclamation project that will one day transform Butte’s Bonanza Mine Dump into a recreation site that will include a BMX racing course.

Bradford Watson, assistant professor of architecture in the MSU School of Architecture in the MSU College of Arts and Architecture, is spearheading the reclamation effort to construct an officially sanctioned USA Bicycle Motocross (BMX) racing course, park and trail system at the site adjacent to Butte’s West Elementary School. The project recently received a $100,000 grant from the Butte Natural Resource Damage Council to get things underway. Watson said the total cost of the project is expected to be $750,000 to $1million.


“We are still working with Butte Silver Bow, the community and grant organizations to raise funds, which will determine final scope of the project,” he said.

The project is one of five small restoration efforts recommended by the council and approved by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to improve former Butte mine sites. The grant will be used at the Bonanza Dump to develop a trail, plantings and wetlands along an existing creek as a part of a larger trail system. Continued fundraising efforts are underway to fund the BMX track.

Soil and water sampling has begun and Watson said he will work with three MSU graduate architecture students this fall to design the BMX track. He said construction on the course is anticipated to begin next spring or summer, with the track opening in the summer or fall of 2017.

Watson began examining the extraction and reclamation efforts on the Butte Hill in 2013, drawn to the area by its significant historical presence as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund program. With a background studying old industrial and early 1900s architecture, Watson said he is interested in “how we can bring back cultural parts of a community as an economic revival.”

Watson’s vision is an alternative strategy to the established plan that calls for propagation of open grass fields that are closed to the public in order to protect them from erosion. Instead, Watson hopes to construct a site that can safely be used by the community while also remaining self-sustainable.

“This gives ownership to the community,” Watson said.

The project area is an eight-acre parcel formerly used as a mine dump that was adopted as an unsanctioned BMX racing track a number of years ago. Drawing on this established use for the land, Watson spoke with operators from the Gallatin Valley BMX track in order to learn about the sport and site construction.


The Butte BMX track will be one of only three in the state, in addition to tracks in Bozeman and Great Falls. Because participants will pay a small fee in order to race on the track, it will be financially sustainable, he added.

“This project speaks to what I believe is a larger value to what design can do,” Watson said. “We as designers can engage with solving problems, and look at the opportunities (these problems) create.”