When asked the question, what’s ahead for the Richmond Parks and Recreation Department, superintendent Denise Retz shakes here head and smiles.
“We’re gonna do it. We’re going to make this happen. We’re rocking and rollin,’” she said.
But future is cloudy, filled with twists and turns. Lots of issues and challenges await and money is short. Still the public, those for whom the parks are created and maintained, are standing at the ready to use a park system they expect to shine. They know what the parks could be, what they should be.
Many wonder, Can we get there?
Full disclosure here, I am finishing my first year on the park board and in January I was elected president.
Now, I am a pretty smart guy and I use the parks just like everybody else. But I don’t have all the answers, just a willingness to serve and a concern about my community.
I have seen positive things during my first year on the board. Retz continually talks of projects accomplished in 2016 (75 if memory serves), a sterling staff, partnerships with street and sanitation workers and partnerships throughout the community.
More is needed.
I did a quick (totally unscientific) survey of 10 Richmondites about what the parks need and the No. 1 response was “keep the parks mowed, playground and other park facilities repaired and keep them free of trash.”
“Keep them safe.”
I think that can happen.
But bigger projects, at McBride Stadium, Cordell Pool, the senior center, may take time.
Mayor Dave Snow is on board. He knows what he wants and also knows the realities.
“Our parks are there, as I look into 2017, to serve a function and that is to provide a communal space for our city, and to provide an outlet for recreation, to stage events and to be a meeting space,” he said.
“So they need to be in a condition and to be programmed and kept up. There needs to be a maintenance plan in place so they are always ready for the community to use them as they see fit.”
That’s pretty simple. Accomplishing it will be the challenge.
The Richmond Common Council has done its part, approving $249,000 additionally in this year’s $2.43 million budget for things like equipment, contractual services, better pay for seasonal workers, utility payments and eliminating dead trees.
So where do we go from here?
Retz recently asked park board members to list their goals for the coming year.
Former board president, Mike Foley, who is the longest serving board member, wants a review of all the parks “to learn the positives and negatives about each. If a negative (exists) then what is needed to make it into a positive.”
“We spend a lot of time on Glen Miller, which is correct, but with a total of 19 parks… I think we need to know what we get from all of them,” he said.
Clay Miller, who serves as the non-voting member representing common council, said “all playground equipment should be repaired in good condition.”
“Broken equipment or equipment in disarray or that looks bad is disinviting to the customers we desire…” he said.
Board member Tiauna Washington also wants a review of all parks and is organizing her Hibberd students to do a year-long survey of all city parks.
“They didn’t know we had so many parks,” Washington said.
Board member Cathryn Dickman called for “increasing the public’s sense of safety and park accessibility.”
“Driving through the park in the evening, the area is especially dark, particularly the north portion of the park,” she said.
Dickman also recommended a community survey to identify what the community feels is attractive about the parks and what would increase usage.
Foley also wants to “develop a plan to get the (Middlefork) Reservoir into a positive cash flow.
“We have put up with it being a (drain on city finances) for too long. If we can’t reverse that then we need to look at what decisions need to be made,” he said.
For me, I’d like to see a survey of work needed at McBride Stadium so we can begin to tackle the small repairs and improvements and also put in place a plan for future (read larger) repairs. I’d also like to see us develop a plan to expand the use of McBride as a way to create additional revenue flow.
We also need to develop a larger volunteer and donor base to help with projects at the ballpark. Spring is just around the corner and small projects remain for willing hands. Also pockets, deep and not-so-deep, are needed to support the park.
We also need a tree plan in place to remove the dead trees from all parks, especially Glen Miller.
I believe 2016 was a good year. Projects were tackled and completed. Glen Miller received some needed attention as did Springwood and Clear Creek. The Dream Court in Clear Creek remains one of the biggest pluses in a year of catch up.
The senior center has a new gym floor and hot water in the bathrooms, something absent for at least five years. The Glen Miller tennis courts have a fresh surface and the hulking white barn near the courts, long a home to stray cats and raccoons (gee, they’re cute, as long as you can stand the stench and don’t want to use the space) is no more.
Springwood is looking better yet with a long way to go to be the safe, usable space it needs to be.
Freeman Park now has new lighting, a shelter, grill area and swing set, thanks to a partnership with the city’s Latino community.
In fact, it’s that partnership and ones like it, that give us encouragement moving ahead.
The Dream Court would not be the dream it is without a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Wayne County and the citizens that brought that national program here.
Last year when citizens saw the condition of McBride Stadium (some angered by what they considered neglect and disdain), they also saw a chance to help. They painted, fixed up, cleaned up. They made a difference.
Others, like the Republican Women of Wayne, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Richmond Lions Club, neighborhood groups, RHS, Earlham and Seton, stepped forward to do what they could. The Wayne County Foundation and local donors helped. They always help.
We need that grassroots effort to grow.
Did they solve all our parks’ problems? Of course not. But they made the effort. Any solution can only be found in a community effort.
Snow is also exploring a plan to limit through vehicular traffic in Glen Miller Park.
“I love Glen Miller Park and Glen Miller was created to be vehicular friendly. Now I think it’s time to transition to be more pedestrian friendly,” he said.
What that means should become apparent in the months ahead.
But nothing will be easy.
— Work at McBride renovating the locker rooms, work on the field and fixing a light tower that fell earlier this year;
— Making the greenhouse more sustainable, partnering with groups like Sprout of Control, Cope Environmental Center and Reid Hospital;
— Work with Richmond Power & Light on construction of the solar canopy atop the new structure to be built at Elstro Plaza;
— Construction of a pocket park between Joy Ann Bakery and Chase Bank to tie into Elstro Plaza.
But bigger projects remain, like anticipated work at Cordell Pool, increasing programming at Glen Miller and all other parks, improvements to the Clear Creek horseshoe courts and assisting the Society for Preservation and Use of Resources with the planning and paving of Riverside Trail.
One project that Retz has begun is a partnership with Earlham College sustainability seniors to build a “sensory park” for toddlers and children with autism and developmental delays in Clear Creek Park.
“It’s an exciting project,” she says. “Their goal is to have the project substantially completed by their graduation in May.”
All the work lies ahead.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year,” says Retz, who is just now completing her first year as parks superintendent. “But we obviously have a lot to do. We have concentrated on beautification and safety and I think we are seeing the benefits.
“People are doing more in the parks. We’re seeing that. And people are asking how they can help. We’ll need that,” she says. “There are a lot of exciting things to come.
“But remember, I’m only as good as the people around me,” she said. “I can’t do it all by myself but I can lead and try to find ways to get things done.”
We’ll need all of that and more.
What are your thoughts? What else needs to be done to improve Richmond parks?