Proposed park improvements bring more space

City officials are releasing a new five-year plan for Columbus parks designed to guide infrastructure improvements and new development to bring the parks system into the 21st century.

The estimated $82 million plan is looking out five years, but parks director Mark Jones said it is actually a blueprint for the system that goes out as far as 10 to 20 years.

The plan was presented Thursday at Donner Center by consultant Ryan P. Cambridge, planning practice leader for Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, Indianapolis.

It will be considered by the Columbus Parks Board at a meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday at the council chambers of Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

Eighteen months in the making, the new master plan includes an evaluation of the current park system, a list of high priority needs, available areas for expansion and feedback from residents as to what they want in a city parks system.

The 250-page document, still a proposal until the parks board votes on it, is being released this morning to the public through the city of Columbus website at columbus.in.gov.

More land for parks needed

Cambridge explained that the Columbus parks currently provide 15 acres of park access for every 1,000 local residents, but with the population projected to increase 15.8 percent by 2030, that amount of acreage as compared to population will fall significantly, to around 12 percent.

The question the master plan attempts to answer is how the parks department can acquire 128 acres of new land to develop into parks and build out 110 acres of existing undeveloped park land to meet that need, he said.

Priority spaces for new park development include areas such as Shadow Creek Farms, a west-side housing development; Abbey Place, a 300-home development on Columbus’ northside; and Eighth Street Park, just north of Mill Race Center.

There also is land near the former wastewater treatment plant site downtown, at Northbrook Park near Marr and Rocky Ford roads, and at Everroad Park between 25th Street and North National Road, he said.

Cambridge noted the city is at work to reclaim use of its riverfronts, as many cities across the country also are doing.

“This is really a compelling quality of life sell for your community,” he said of the city’s plans to create recreational opportunities at the riverfront downtown.

Multiple suggestions

Another major effort mentioned in the plan is the need for indoor recreation and programming, something Cambridge said Columbus lacks, although is attempting to provide somewhat through Donner Center.

The 70-year-old facility is showing its age, and Mayor Jim Lienhoop has identified determining what to do with the facility as a priority for 2018.

There is no central location for a community center or recreational facility within the city that provides a multi-generational centralized hub for indoor recreation, athletics, fitness and programming, Cambridge said.

Potential locations for such a facility could be Donner Park, with the expansion and renovation of Donner Center, or the possible demolition of the facility and building a new one, he said. The parks system could also consider the former wastewater treatment plant acreage as a building site, or possible a retail retrofit of a vacant big box store, such as the former Kroger property on Old National Road.

Bikeways and trails also are on the priority list for the master plan. Cambridge said Columbus has 44 miles of existing trails and is pursuing a vision that every resident should be within three blocks of walking access to the People Trail.

As the city grows, this goal becomes more of a challenge and gaps are being created, he said.

The plan also encourages the city to consider building on its trail infrastructure by creating trailhead welcoming areas, with bike racks, shelters, water fountains and other amenities.

The city could also work to develop a better “sense of place” for the parks system and its trails by developing wayfinding signage and educational opportunities to learn more about the history of the areas visitors are seeing, Cambridge said.

More technology, such as making WiFi available in every city park, and creating better universal accessibility, are also ways to increase visits to area parks, he said. There are new park benches available that allow individuals to charge their phones when visiting a park, but also provide a count of how many people use the service while visiting the park that can be collected as research data for the parks system.

For golfers, the plan notes Columbus is unusual in having two golf courses that are city-owned and operated, Cambridge said. Strategic upgrades to the clubhouses, better amenities and upgraded infrastructure throughout the courses are needed, and the city might consider private sector partners to help with some of those improvements, he said.

Additional golf programming and events were also mentioned by park patrons as part of the survey about current park offerings.

Reaction to findings

Jones said he was surprised at some of the findings in the master plan, particularly a portion suggested by the public that they wanted more nature offerings and programming in local parks.

The city is considering adding pollinator park features to some areas to help the bee population and the butterflies, and exploring other ways that programs about nature can be offered in local parks, he said.

The master plan research shows most Columbus residents rate the city parks as “good,” but not “excellent,” and that’s the gap that Jones said he hopes to bridge with the improvements suggested in the plan.

“We do have older facilities and we work hard to maintain all those facilities,” he said. “We need to make sure we are set up for long-term sustainability as we go forward.”

Jones said that while the current parks system is based on an older model of park operation, which is placing a swing and slide in an area and calling it a park, now the public expects, and wants, more.

“We need to keep up, embrace technology and go for the 21st century park theme — that’s what we’re going with,” he said.

If you go

What: Columbus Parks Board meeting

When: 4 p.m. Thursday

Where: Council Chambers, Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

Where to read the plan

The City of Columbus master plan for parks was scheduled to be placed on the city’s website today. Visit columbus.in.gov for more information.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.