BILLINGS — The Billings Rims, a scenic landmark of the community, is seeing a rising population of transient people living out of their cars.
People of the Billings community, including the city's parks and rec Superintendent Mike Piggs, say that the problem is very clear for those who drive along the Rims.
"There's definitely people spending the night there all along that highway," Piggs said.
According to Piggs, the homeless population is growing to levels he's never seen before.
"I have probably seen an uptick in the homeless population this year. I don't know if it's a sign of the times," Piggs said.
After the shooting that occurred early Saturday morning, where an 18-year-old man allegedly shot and injured a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old man, Billings parents, such as Erika Beasel, have begun to question the safety of the area.
"I drive by the Rims every day on my way to work, and the past couple years, I have just noticed a lot of homelessness going on. You just don't know what is going on up there anymore," Beasel said over the weekend after the shooting.
Unfortunately, the area that sees the most problems falls in between city and state jurisdiction. Highway 3, which runs past the area, is patrolled by the state.
"If I don't have jurisdiction, there is nothing I can do up there. So those cars that are parked along there, they annoy me, but there is nothing I can do about them," Piggs said.
Piggs showed MTN News a map highlighting city park space and what is outside of the city's jurisdiction. The areas in green in the image below are public park land, which means that the city has the jurisdiction to remove people from the area.
The problem is that most of the transient population along the Rims are camping in spots that are outside the parks.
“A large portion of it is managed by the state so it’s state highway easement. And then some of it is private property. The private property extends all the way up to the easement,” Piggs said.
However, the Parks Department is working on a solution. A trail that stretches from Swords Park to Zimmerman Trail is in the works and will eliminate the area where these cars are being parked.
“I think it takes kind of a negative with all these people camping up there and turns it into a huge positive. We’re going to have a great trail that runs across the top of the Rims,” Piggs said.
The hope is that the new trail will both solve the issue and ensure the Rims are still a safe and beautiful place to visit.
“The Rims are a very valuable asset to the city of Billings. We want it to be very inviting for everyone, and homeless camps definitely deter that,” Piggs said.