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City parks plan starts to develop an identity

WILLMAR — An idea being considered as the Community Education and Recreation Department develops a five-year plan to address present and future city park needs is naming the Robbins Island Park area and the Swansson Field area as regional parks.

The Robbins Island regional park area would include the Flags of Honor, the island and potentially Sperry Park.

The Swansson area would include the softball fields, the skate park, the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center, Bill Taunton Stadium, the multipurpose field and Lions Park.

“A regional park means if we had a couple of regional parks in the city, we would devote more energies to it and those energies might create an opportunity for us to qualify for some grants because it’s bigger than just one park system,’’ explains Steve Brisendine, Community Education and Recreation director.

The regional park idea was discussed during an open house held last month to gather community input about park needs and wants. Also, over 600 community members made their comments known in an online park survey.

“We have information on all the amenities right now, all the playground sets, all the ball fields. We know what we’ve got. We know what condition they’re in. We went to the public … We sought some input into the plan itself, what’s shaping up in the park plan, the amenities that we might be missing,’’ Brisendine said. “We had a list of things that we do not have in this town and what would the community think about these.’’

Park planners think that having a park within a half-mile of every resident is a good standard.

It might not mean that every amenity will be in every park. But planners would like to have green space within a half-mile of everybody “and I think that’s met.’’ Brisendine said.

Planners are also looking at school playgrounds. In many ways, schools are parks when ball fields and playground systems are considered.

“Why do we have a playground system at Miller Park when we have a very nice one here at Jefferson school and we have a very nice one at Kennedy Elementary School,’’ he says. “Same with some of the parks over by Roosevelt. Roosevelt has a very nice system. I don’t know about the Community Christians School or whether that’s open or not in the summer time. But they have a very nice playground system.’’

Brisendine thinks planners will focus on what’s in the parks and possibly create a plan for downsizing some amenities and equipment needs. Currently, the city has playground systems in most of the 37 parks. The systems get outdated and are expensive, and how would the city maintain that level of service.

“But I don’t see us necessarily downsizing parks unless it makes sense that there is another use for those parks, and there might be an example of a small neighborhood park that somebody would develop a house on and there’s one within half-mile or quarter-mile from it. That might make sense,’’ he said.

Brisendine said his office and the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission in Willmar will start sketching out a draft plan and will hold more public open houses and focus groups to tell the community what’s being proposed for the next 5, 10 and 20 years.

“We’ve been meeting since June on this park plan. We believe that we’ve got a lot of input. We’ll seek more input. We’ve got a joint powers board that’s got 14 representatives on it. We need their input because they are the ones that will bring it to the City Council for us,’’ Brisendine said.

“We hope to go to the City Council in either late February or the first meeting in March with a park plan,’’ he said. “We believe that this is going to be a great connection to the trail and pedestrian plan we did in 2011 and tie it into the city’s comprehensive plan.’’

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150