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story.lead_photo.caption Olivia Foster (left) of Green Forest reviews photos with Jacie Sweeney of Fayetteville after a photo session with Sweeney’s dogs Champ and Ollie Jean at Gulley Park. Fayetteville has set aside $200,000 to develop a parks plan, which hasn’t received an update since 2002. Parks officials say having a new plan in place will make it easier to plan individual parks and best address what the community wants. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

FAYETTEVILLE -- An update to the city's overall parks plan will give department officials a stronger foot to stand on when it comes to figuring out if spruce-ups or new amenities best address the city's recreational needs.

The City Council last approved a parks plan in 2002. With an intended relevance of a decade, the plan led to the creation of a city trails network, Kessler Mountain Regional Park, new jobs within the department and hundreds of acres in new parks dedication.

Photo by J.T. Wampler
A jogger uses the trail at Gulley Park on Tuesday in Fayetteville. The city has set aside $200,000 to develop a parks plan, which hasn’t received an update since 2002. Parks officials say having a new plan in place will make it easier to plan individual parks and best address what the community wants.

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To see an interactive map of all 36 of the city’s parks and its trails, go to:

Parks officials hope an updated plan will be just as transformative. Ted Jack, park planning superintendent, said the first part of the plan is to get the basics figured out.

"We need better information," he said. "Even with your best intentions, if you don't know what the community really wants it's hard to hit the nail on the head with your efforts."

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The Parks Department will have $200,000 set aside in the capital improvements program budget for 2018 and 2019 to develop a parks plan. Jack said $50,000 will be used next year to get a clear picture of what the city already has. The research will be akin to a cultural study, he said, looking at not only what the parks have to offer but what nonprofit groups, churches and other organizations are doing with their recreational programs.

After that will come several public input sessions, drafting a report and getting feedback on it, and then coming up with a final report. Jack said most of that should take place in 2019 with the remaining $150,000.

The idea is to avoid duplicate services and figure out which parts of town could best use certain amenities through data gathering, Jack said. Parks staff hope to do as much of the work as they can in-house but consultants will be needed for more involved aspects, he said.

Once the City Council approves the plan, the Parks Department can start implementing it. Devising plans for individual parks will become far easier, Jack said.

For example, the department this year held a few input sessions for a Walker Park plan. Attendees asked for a splash pad. However, through scientific surveys and several input sessions over a period of months to develop an overall plan, parks officials would have a better idea of what residents who live near the park want, and what the residents who live near them want, and so on, Jack said.

"It gives you a real good sense of what the community as a whole wants, whereas in your public meetings sometimes you get people really interested in one thing and someone who's against and you miss the bigger middle," he said.

Two projects, $50,0000 for an urban tree canopy assessment and $150,0000 to build campgrounds at Lake Sequoyah, will be pushed back to make room for the master plan development.

Bentonville has gotten started on several projects since its City Council adopted an updated parks plan in August, Parks Director David Wright said. The city received a $200,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to develop a plan and hired consultants LaQuatra Bonci Associates of Pittsburgh, he said.

The department held a series of public meetings, followed by focus group sessions, Wright said. The focus groups included cyclists, runners, youth sports participants and others. From there, a city survey went out, first to a random selection of residents and then to anyone who wanted to respond, he said.

The city has started converting Memorial Park into nine AstroTurf baseball and softball fields, looping parts of the Razorback Greenway, finishing Citizens Park and adding features to Melvin Ford Aquatic Center. Having an overall plan to reference has helped prioritize what to start first, Wright said.

"The master plan gives you a vision of things from 30,000 feet," he said.

Population demographics and what residents want has changed significantly since 2002, Fayetteville Parks Director Connie Edmonston said. Advancements in technology, such as free wi-fi in the city's parks, changes the way people use them, she said.

Edmonston said she's particularly interested to hear what residents think about three major areas: Lake Fayetteville, Lake Sequoyah and Lake Wilson.

"How do they want to use them? And how can we best utilize those green spaces?" she said.

Richie Lamb, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board chairman, said every year the parks staff makes recommendations on what needs fixing or which parks need new amenities. The board decides to spend money without a broader knowledge of what makes the most sense investment-wise, he said.

Lamb said he wants to know if residents want more amenities or if they want parks officials to improve amenities. For example, maybe a neighborhood would like to have another ball field nearby, or maybe residents there would prefer its park gets new lighting, he said.

Lamb said he hopes development of the plan will usher public engagement on the front end, rather than a reactive type of environment. He used a recent outcry over Lewis Park, which the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture owns and decided to sell in September, as an example.

"They do have a voice and the city does care what they have to say," Lamb said. "And if they will speak up, then they're going to be that much closer to getting what they might want out of the parks system."

NW News on 11/25/2017

Print Headline: Parks department looking at big picture

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