Caras Park, located just south of the historic Wilma Theatre downtown, was created as a result of a land reclamation project done as the state highway department replaced the aging, two-lane Higgins Avenue Bridge in 1962 with the current four-lane structure. Before the reclamation, the Clark Fork River divided to create an island with the north channel’s bank extending to nearby buildings such as the Wilma Theatre.
The south channel was deepened for the increased water flow and the infilled land later became Caras Park. Events in the park were not common until the early 1980s and permanent fixtures like Out to Lunch that began in 1986.
The Missoula Downtown Association took over from Parks and Recreation for management of the park and made improvements to make Caras Park more event friendly. Seating, event circles, brick plazas, restrooms, and storage structures were added. Large temporary tents were used for events until 1997 when a permanent Caras Park Pavilion was constructed. With its centralized, waterfront location the park has become the hub of Missoula’s festivities.
These include Out to Lunch, the International Wildlife Film Festival, First Night Missoula, Garden City BrewFest and offered intimate concert settings for artists such as Jewel, Chris Isaak, Santana, Ziggy Marley, and B.B. King. Located next to Caras Park is ‘A Carousel for Missoula’, a wooden, hand-carved and volunteer-built carousel; and ‘Dragon Hollow’, a magical play land adjacent to the carousel.