Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 13, 2014

ON THE RIGHT PATH

City leaders develop master plan for parks

By SCOTT WEISSER scott.weisser@goshennews.com
Goshen News

---- — GOSHEN

Fidler Pond Park made a splash. What’s next?

More broadly, what may the future hold for all of the Goshen parks system and programming? Parks and Recreation Department staff and board members are working to chart the course, and the public can help.

A five-year master plan process for the department is underway. Park board members are set to review a draft of the plan during their meeting today. A public presentation of the master plan draft is scheduled for Feb. 17.

After that, people are invited to make comments until mid-April. The plan — a requirement for city officials to receive federal funding — will then be submitted to the Department of Natural Resources.

Park officials are looking ahead. And the future includes potential for continued development of Fidler Pond Park.

A destination spot

The Fidler park, located at 1424 Lincolnway East, opened to the public over the Labor Day holiday.

Originally a gravel quarry owned by the Fidler family and more recently by Aggregate Industries, the pond was purchased in December 2012 for around $550,000. It now boasts a 1.5-mile trail and a designated fishing area.

“I would not be surprised if in the very near future if (Fidler Pond Park) didn’t become one of our primary parks,” said parks department Superintendent Sheri Howland. “Because that parking lot is full. We need to address additional parking there at some point. It seems everyone wants to visit that beautiful park now.”

Park board member Jim Wellington had championed the former Fidler site becoming a city park.

“I’m very happy with how people started using it right away, and how much people have liked it,” he said.

As with any parks undertaking, available funding is key to any Fidler enhancement. That said, the site’s potential has prompted interest from financial backers.

“Which is encouraging,” Howland said. “The details aren’t finalized yet.”

According to Howland, a benefactor is interested in building an open-air pavilion at the site. There’s also a possibility of more renovations to the Fidler park barn. Howland also said the parks crew has been approached by an organization wanting to help refurbish and enhance the native plantings there for a wildlife habitat.

Wellington is optimistic about what’s in store for Fidler Pond Park.

“There are definitely people — now that there’s a park, now that they can see the vision — they’re coming out of the woodwork wanting to help,” he said. “It kind of just took that initial leap of faith from the parks department to get behind it. I think everything’s going to fall in line.”

Howland said funding needs to be secured to develop a master management plan for the Fidler park area — in particular fish and wildlife management. Right now only bank fishing is offered, and for a set time period, because biologists warned of a risk for fishing the pond out.

“We wanted to be good stewards of that, and limit that (fishing) until we had such a plan,” Howland said.

The Fidler area is hardly the sole focus of park officials. According to Howland, Goshenites will see another park developed once the weather cooperates.

Howland said a Rotary Club donation of $45,000 was recently received that will aid the development of the Mill Street park, to be located at the former Quality Drive-Away site. Neighbors suggested a park would be a good fit for that area.

“We anticipate starting installation of playground equipment and parking lots in that particular park as soon as the weather permits in 2014, this year,” she said.

Look for work on Goshen’s linear parks to continue in 2014 and the years to come, too. That should suit those who responded to park department master plan-related surveys just fine.

The trails

Around 3,000 surveys were distributed to members of homeowners associations and at schools, handed out during First Fridays and made available at the parks department office. A total of 517 written surveys were returned, and another 219 people took part in an online survey. That was a great response, in Howland’s view.

One survey question was, “Which existing GPRD outdoor programs/activities are important to you and/or your family?” Walking/biking trails garnered nearly 500 positive responses. Asked “What new, renovated or expanded park facilities would you support?,” survey takers turned in the most positive responses — around 280 — for trail development and connections. An ice skating rink came in at No. 2.

So where are those trails headed?

A trail extending from U.S. 33 along Monroe Street (C.R. 34) to the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds is due to be completed by April. Landscaping work is scheduled for completion in May.

City officials also have a goal of building a Ninth Street trail from College Avenue to Purl Street. A Transportation Alternative Program grant application has been submitted to the state Department of Transportation. Goshen officials will make a presentation to INDOT today as part of the application process.

“We’re in competition” for the funding, according to Goshen Civil City Engineer Mary Cripe. If Goshen receives the grant, construction is expected to begin in 2016.

Additionally, construction is anticipated in 2017 for the Northwest Bike Trail. Goshen has received $1.4 million in federal funding for the project, and Cripe said additional funding is being sought.

Cripe said the route will extend along Bashor Road to the new C.R. 17. The trail will then run along C.R. 17 right of way to Peddlers Village Road, then head west to a utility easement. Cripe said the trail will come in to the back side of Sam’s Club between Sam’s Club and Lowe’s.

“It’s basically to provide connectivity from the residential areas of Goshen to the northwest commercial corridor,” Cripe said of the trail project.

According to Cripe, a trail along Kercher Road is also anticipated as part of the intersection improvement project at Ind. 15 and Kercher (C.R. 38). That work is expected to take place in 2015.

More music?

Survey takers weighed in on other park-related issues as well.

“Music in the Parks” was the clear favorite of the categories listed along with the question, “What programs/activities would you like to see adding or expanding within the next five years?”

Howland said musical performances used to be staged at Pringle Park. When Goshen’s First Fridays festival started, the parks department sponsored music groups downtown to help that event grow.

“We want to absolutely be part of First Fridays and help out because that partnership really helps grow park programs as well,” Howland said. “But the demand is there for the parks to have music performances also.”

On the issue of whether city parks should be smoke-free, responders replied “yes” by a wide margin.

“It’s absolutely a positive move in my personal view...,” Howland said of smoke-free parks. “However, I’m not sure how we could police that.”