FAYETTEVILLE — Passage of the park bond issue would mean a public tent campground, a paddle and nature attraction, a one-stop spot for youth baseball and more features for the parks residents already frequent.
Voters on April 9 will consider extending the city’s 1-cent sales tax to pay for about $226 million in bonds for various projects. Of that, about $26.4 million would be dedicated to parks.
Park officials have come up with a $25 million budget they say will cover improvements at parks and create new ones. The $1.4 million discrepancy is because the city wants to make sure it has at least $25 million for projects and be able to cover whatever the maximum interest rates will be at the time the bonds are issued, Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said.
The list of projects largely came from residents as part of the city’s ongoing update of the 10-year park master plan, Park Planning Superintendent Ted Jack said. A dozen public meetings and results of more than 1,500 surveys helped shape the plan, which should be released by the end of the year.
The list serves as a budget, but allocations may get moved around depending on circumstance. The bottom line is to have projects that meet the needs of residents, Parks Director Connie Edmonston said.
“I hope our citizens see we’re trying to touch everybody with this bond money,” she said.
The money from two revenue sources — the bond money and the capital improvements fund — would complement each other, and serve as money to put down toward grant opportunities, Jack said.
“Right now, the city’s putting a million, million and a half a year into parks for major maintenance and construction,” he said. “That’s kind of keeping your head above water, kind of keeping you at the status quo. You’re not really able to progress the system to serve the citizens better.”
Mayor Lioneld Jordan said the city’s parks serve as community gathering spaces.
“When you go to our parks, you see both the diversity of our community and the diversity of the recreation they enjoy,” he said. “No matter who you are or what you like to do for fun, our parks have something for everyone.”
The city’s three largest parks would get the biggest chunk of bond money, totaling nearly $10.4 million.
Leading the pack is Kessler Mountain Regional Park, which would get almost $8 million.
The park would receive a wagon wheel of four more baseball fields with associated parking, restrooms and concessions. The new fields would sit north of the four existing ball fields. Nearly $6.9 million is dedicated to the new fields. Another $1 million would pay for artificial turf at all eight fields.
The idea is to have one central location that needs less maintenance and where more games can be played, Edmonston said. Right now, tournament play is divided between the fields at Kessler and Walker Park.
“Moms and dads who have kids who have to go to different ballparks, it becomes very cumbersome,” she said.
The ball fields at Walker Park could be repurposed or used for a larger variety of sports, Jack said. A plan specific to Walker Park’s development would be in order, he said.
Veterans Memorial Park and the park at Lake Fayetteville would get a hefty share of the bond money with $1.7 million planned. Another $1.7 million in capital money would be used.
Work ranging from new parking, seating, play and picnic spots, improved sand volleyball courts and better access in and out at Veterans Memorial Park has $1 million in bond money and $70,000 from the capital fund attached to it. Another $550,000 would go toward a new trail and bridge crossing the water to the peninsula north of the park. Decks and more places to get to the water would be included.
Lake Fayetteville Park would get $150,000 in bond money to improve the ball fields and $1 million from the capital budget. Another $630,000 from the capital fund would be put toward boat dock replacement and new restrooms.
The area is one of the most popular recreational spots in the city, Jack said. The use is taking a toll, he said.
“It’s getting loved to death,” he said. “We’re trying to get it in a state where it can be more sustainable.”
Park staff frequently receives calls asking about camping sites in the city. Edmonston said she has to tell them there is none.
That would change with $800,000 allotted to Lake Sequoyah Park. The department’s concept includes camping spots complete with surfacing, tent pads, space for a grill or fire ring and lantern pole. A new fishing pier, trails and parking accommodations also are included in the concept design.
An ordinance change would be required. Right now, groups who want to camp can only do so with permission from the park director, Edmonston said.
“Our community wants to be more outdoors,” she said. “Why send people clear to Devil’s Den when we have Lake Sequoyah?”
Four smaller parks are slated for about $5.8 million in bond money.
Park staff has a plan to equally address needs at Bryce Davis, Walker and Gulley parks. About $2.4 million is set aside for each using bond and capital money combined. Wilson Park has a smaller allocation, $550,000 in bond money and $389,000 from the capital fund, because it recently had a new playground built, tennis lighting installed and a basketball court is in construction.
Trails, better access to the pond and natural areas, and new features at the dog park, such as shady spots and fencing, are in store for Bryce Davis Park.
Gulley Park already has its own master plan. The city last year received a $250,000 matching grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to put toward a splash pad, play area, outdoor chess and game spot, and parents pavilion.
Bond money, capital money and the grant will help make the Gulley Park plan come together, Jack said. New restrooms, a large pond with decks and a dog park would be included. Park staff can most likely get started first on the splash pad and an activity hub for children, he said.
Walker Park likely will go through a planning process to determine how best to use its allocated dollars, Jack said.
About $8.8 million would be dedicated to special projects and small, neighborhood parks.
The most ambitious special project would use $3.6 million in bond money to put a paddle park and outdoor water recreation spot between Combs and White River parks.
The Watershed Conservation Resource Center, Arkansas Canoe Club and Beaver Watershed Alliance joined in January of last year to present the idea to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The plan would have a dilapidated dam at the West Fork of the White River torn out and replaced with whitewater features. The old pump house would be renovated and parking and trails added. A field for events and play would sit west of the park.
If successful, the paddle park could connect to 12.5 miles of river from Greenland to Wyman.
Money for the dam removal and stream restoration would have to come from a separate source, Edmonston said.
“This one has grant opportunities,” she said.
Another $2.4 million would be dedicated to land acquisition, namely to purchase Lewis Park. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture owns the 27-acre property near Asbell Elementary, which the city leases. The lease was set to expire last summer but was extended another year as city and Fayetteville School District officials work out a partnership to buy the land.
Any money that might be left over could be used toward other land acquisitions or other park improvements. Money also could be pulled from other projects to put toward the purchase if necessary, Jack said.
That’s true for everything else on the bond projects’ list as well, Edmonston said.
“These are potential projects,” she said. “Things do come up, particularly when you’re designing and when we get to prioritizing.”
About $2.1 million is reserved for smaller, neighborhood parks. About half the amount would be used to expand the Yvonne Richardson Community Center to add a multipurpose room, teaching kitchen and storage space. Included in that is an overhaul of the Buddy Hayes pocket park across the street. A grove for informal performances, access carved out to the creek, fencing and a new sidewalk and street trees could enhance the area.
Another special project would put $600,000 toward features that encourage interaction with nature. Canopy walks or small spaces for yoga and other activities might be possible. Park staff are eyeing Mount Sequoyah Woods, Walker Park, the new Centennial Park and Brock Hummel Nature Preserve as potential locations.
Stacy Ryburn can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @stacyryburn.