Pride. A sense of ownership in the community. Discouraging crime.
All these are reasons to invest in recreation, Columbus Recreation Director Greg Lewis told a room of about 30 people gathered Monday night in the lower level of the Trotter Convention Center.
As the next step in the revitalization of Propst Park, Lewis, City Engineer Kevin Stafford and Neel-Schaffer landscape architect Russ Bryan presented the results of an online survey conducted late last year that gave community members the chance to shape the park’s future.
Bryan said about 83 people responded to the online survey, and one person turned in a hard-copy response. The results were fairly evenly split among people who used the park regularly and those who did not, with about 80 percent of respondents saying they had lived in Columbus more than 20 years and about 47 percent saying they used the park.
“That’s a great mix of people who can tell us what they do and how they do it, but also it starts to connect with people who aren’t using the park,” Bryan said.
Youth baseball, the dog park, playgrounds, softball, disc golf, walking and picnic areas were the top things that brought users into the park, he said. New or improved event spaces, addressing safety and security, improved baseball facilities, better walking trails and better playgrounds, on the other hand, were the top things non-users said might better draw them in.
Ten percent rated the park as good overall, 55 percent said fair and 35 percent said poor. Maintenance was seen as a major issue, with 9 percent saying the park was well maintained, 54 percent said maintenance was fair and 37 said it was poor. Only 17 percent said that the recreation opportunities at the park were good, 49 percent said fair and 34 percent poor.
When people were asked to rank facilities in the order they were most needed, new baseball, softball and multi-purpose fields ranked highest, followed by more youth activities, creek access, adult softball and special population programs.
Finally, nearly half of the surveys said renovation of existing facilities should be the top priority, with 23 percent saying new programs should be added, he said. Paved trails and new playgrounds were popular “passive” recreation additions.
The master plan Bryan and Stafford presented incorporated all that feedback in an ambitious package that added new baseball and softball fields, a multi-purpose field and several playground areas. A new T-ball field will be added to better meet demand for that program, he said.
Roads around the fields will be redone both to calm traffic and to provide parking, Bryan said. Commenters often brought up the need to close the park to through traffic.
“There is a lot of through traffic, and one reason for that is you can turn into the park and just zoom straight north to get back into the neighborhood,” he said. “You come in and you can only drive for a few hundred feet before you have to go either left or right. There aren’t a lot of straight shots.”
The parking along both sides of the road will also slow traffic, Bryan said.
He suggested “simplifying” concessions by allowing outdoor vendors and food trucks to come in, rather than the traditional fare offered now.
The draft plan added three half-mile loops for walking, as well as spaces for longer distances.
“We’re showing two 1.55-mile loops,” he said. “Doing that twice is a 5K. We’re showing a road route and an off-road route that connects a lot of the loops throughout the park. That gives you more events (to host), with cross-country and 5K fundraisers.”
Bryan also suggested keeping two of the four existing tennis courts, but converting the other two to pickleball.
“We don’t believe there’s enough demand for four courts,” he said. “… You can convert two tennis courts to six pickleball courts.”
The plan also called for acquisition of some property. One piece would be east of the existing park, stretching to the banks of the Luxapalila Creek. It would add nature trails, more disc golf and access to the water for kayaking and fishing.
Other property, on the northwest side, would add a buffer around that side of the park, he said.
Neither Bryan nor Stafford presented cost estimates Monday, saying they would wait until after a second round of public feedback to generate those.
Stafford said a new survey would be posted on the city’s Facebook page to ask for feedback. Interested citizens can also visit the park office, City Hall or Neel-Schaffer to give suggestions, he said.
“Our job now is to put a cost to it and get feedback on it,” he said. “Then we can prioritize it and present to the council at their March 15 meeting.”
The feedback period ends March 7, he said.
“We’ll also look at funding ideas,” he said. “There are a lot of grants out there beyond the state legislation we get annually.”
Lewis said he thought the park’s priority should be serving the local community.
“I’m not competing with what’s going on 20 miles down the road or 60 miles up the road,” he said. “I think these are facilities that we need for our citizens here in the community. Any tournament we get will simply be gravy.”