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Conceptual plan outlined for future of park

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Matt Lokay with Mackin Engineering presents a conceptual site plan for Washington Park during the city Park & Recreation Commission meeting on Tuesday night.

The future of Washington Park was the focus of a special meeting of the city’s Parks & Recreation Commission on Tuesday night.

Matt Lokay, a senior landscape architect with Mackin Engineering, presented a conceptual site plan for the park.

And it drew public interest – council chambers were overflowing to hear the proposal.

The plan will ultimately be used to secure grant funding and any future development at the park will have to go to city council for consideration.

“The last thing the city wants to do (is anything that) would negatively impact the neighboring landowners,” Department of Public Works Superintendent Joe Reinke said.

He promised that if those landowners want to be part of the conversation going forward “by all means, we’re going to talk to you.”

Lokay said development at the site is limited by the steep slopes but presented four ideas, cautioning that they are “not set in stone.”

The first option was to do nothing – leaving the park as it is.

The second option would improve the road access off Liberty Street as well as the parking – both formalizing the spots at the end of the road and creating several parking spaces along the access road.

Parking now, Lokay said, is “limited” and “confusing.” In this proposal could also be an information kiosk as well as a restroom facility that does not require utilities, which the site does not have.

He called the kiosk a way to “make people feel comfortable in the park and invite more new users.”

A third option would add hiking and walking trails – including a sensory-friendly trail for children wiht autism — as well wayfinding at the trailhead.

“This is improving the trail system” that exists, he said, which are there for well pad access for the six wells on the park property. That would include a little over two miles of trails — .75 miles of crushed limestone and 1.35 miles of dirt single track that connects to a parcel the city owns on West Fifth Avenue.

“This concept would keep the park passive but accommodate a broader group of users,” Lokay said.

The final option would open the park to mountain bikers — about 2.35 miles of trails.

Issues of vandalism were frequently cited throughout the discussion.

“We do a lot of trail projects,” Lokay said, and have “learned the more people on a trail – the more eyes — the less vandalism and crim…. It helps with more eyes on the actual trail.”

Concerns were also expressed regarding the impact to West Fifth Avenue residences from potential access from the city’s property.

Lokay said addressing that issue is “probably the next step moving forward … that would have to be sorted out.”

Shifting to mountain biking, he said the proposal is probably short “as far as a destination” but said biking is “a possibility for sure.”

“I just came up with what could work here as far as a trail,” Lokay added, and “make it as long as possible,” calling this is “best first shot.”

One of the key questions was “Why is this proposal in people’s back yards?”

“We wanted to provide something in the city for bikers,” Lokay said. “We’re just trying to show what can happen at this park.”

After the presentation, the meeting was opened up for public feedback and Commission chairman Mike Suppa thanked people for their input.

The opinions expressed during the meeting were varied and often passionate. See Thursday’s Times Observer for an article that takes a closer look at the public input the commission received.

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