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Course set for Fayetteville's parks, trails next year

by Stacy Ryburn | November 8, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.
Signage before a private drive is visible Thursday, October 8, 2020, on a new section of trail just south of Sweetbriar Park in Fayetteville. A number of projects related to parks and trails in the city are continuing despite operational budget cuts because of the covid-19 pandemic. Niokaska Creek Trail was unveiled to the public Monday, and stretches from Gulley Park to Sweetbriar Park and connects to Mud Creek Trail to the north. Check out nwaonline.com/201011Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

FAYETTEVILLE — The city’s parks won’t have as much money to work with next year because of the covid-19 pandemic, prompting a focus on nature-oriented outdoor events.

However, trail use and construction is going strong.

The proposed Parks Department budget is $5.5 million, about $700,000 less than the $6.2 million budgeted this year.

The budget for trails is separate from parks, and the trails coordinator works in the Engineering Division.

A large part of the revenue for parks comes from half the city’s 2% hotel, motel and restaurant sales tax. The other half goes to tourism.

That sales tax revenue for parks has dropped about $529,000 so far this year, according to the department. From January to September, the Parks Department garnered about $2.2 million. It received about $2.7 million for the time period last year.

Other revenue loss this year can be attributed to a lack of participants in programs and team sports that charge a fee, said Paul Becker, the city’s chief financial officer. The Wilson Park pool stayed closed, for instance, and a number of summer programs didn’t happen, he said. Becker anticipated more revenue from fees associated with park programs.

“I’m forecasting that that’s probably going to do better next year,” Becker said. “If it doesn’t do better — it’s just like the pool. We don’t open the pool. As far as the budget’s concerned, I’m anticipating we’re going to have programs for the summer.”

Great outdoors

Outdoor activities such as hiking and camping have increased during the pandemic, and the department intends to take advantage, Parks Director Connie Edmonston said.

The Outdoor Fayetteville program launched last month with sunset paddling at Lake Fayetteville and will grow next year, she said.

Christy Wear described her 10-year-old daughter, Rosalynd, as a bit finicky. She usually doesn’t like to get her shoes wet, Wear said.

That wasn’t the case when the two went paddling. They could choose a canoe or a kayak. Recreation Programs Manager Darrell Shaw guided everyone along the way. Wear said she’s canoed her whole life and hadn’t ever heard of a j-stroke.

Wear has been working from home for the philosophy department at the University of Arkansas, while Rosalynd has been going to school online. The two haven’t gone out much since the pandemic hit.

Rosalynd took to the canoeing experience so well they signed up for upcoming hiking and mountain biking programs, Wear said.

The paddling experience made for a great memory, Wear said, and the two are ready to go back.

“We’re going to go back to Lake Fayetteville in the spring and rent our own equipment, and we feel confident that we can do it,” Wear said.

The program filled all 30 spots in hours, said Lee Farmer, parks recreation superintendent. The department intends to expand the outdoor program with introductory-level courses in hiking and mountain biking and to keep adding programs next year, he said.

The department offered an online summer camp and after-school program with cooking, art and games and may continue those, Farmer said. Team sports for next year are uncertain, he said.

The youth soccer program, for instance, may focus on drills and skill-building, rather than hosting a competitive league with 1,600 children, Farmer said.

“We’re coming up with multiple options for every program we plan to run, especially during the spring and early summer months,” he said. “We anticipate still being in the pandemic at least in the early part of 2021.”

The city closed playgrounds, courts, restrooms and other facilities in March at the onset of the pandemic but reopened most by September. People still showed up all summer, Edmonston said.

“We’ve had more park usage, and trail usage has been unreal, even though a lot of our facilities were closed,” she said. “People are going to a park for the green space, just to get out and get fresh air and to be active or have a place to sit and relax.”

Open trails

Trail use has surged during the pandemic, and the city has been able to maintain a steady pace of new trail construction, Trails Coordinator Matt Mihalevich said. An example is the 3-mile Niokaska Creek Trail that took more than two years to build, he said.

The project stayed on schedule with no interruptions, Mihalevich said. The new trail connects Mud Creek Trail near Lake Fayetteville to the Old Wire cycle track and trail to the south, and provides trail access to about 4,000 people who live within a quarter mile, he said.

Trail construction has a capital budget of $1.5 million per year. Mihalevich said so far he has not heard from the city’s administration about any changes to the budget. The city also has $6.8 million to use for trail projects from the bond issue voters approved last year. Additionally, grants and sharing the cost of construction with developers helps build trails.

The city’s transportation crews build the trails.

“Despite everything going on, those guys kicked butt and got it done,” Mihalevich said. “Now, it’s enjoyed by the public, which is especially important during this time when people need to get out. We have more open trail to experience.”

The city has 48 miles of paved trails and 56 miles of natural surface trails, bringing the total to 104 miles.

Looking to next year

Next year’s parks budget anticipates $2.9 million in revenue from the hotel, motel and restaurant sales tax. This year’s budget had more than $3.6 million anticipated from that revenue source.

The parks capital budget for next year is significantly lower, proposed as $421,000, compared to more than $1.6 million budgeted for this year. Parks capital money comes from a variety of sources, including general sales tax and the hotel, motel and restaurant sales tax.

Other money comes from the city’s general fund. The City Council will decide the amount when it takes up the overall city budget later this year. Its first budget workshop is scheduled Saturday.

The Parks Department refrained from hiring part-time staff, cut back on maintenance work and didn’t fill a park planner position, Edmonston said. Some of those measures may have to carry into next year, she said.

Some of the capital projects proposed for next year include resurfacing and putting up fencing and lights at the Wilson Park tennis courts, playground updates at a variety of parks, stabilizing the rock house at Wilson Park and fixing trails at Mount Sequoyah, Kessler Mountain and Gregory Park.

Edmonston said the plan is to budget for parks as usual and make adjustments as needed. She hopes the pandemic will subside by summer and recreational life with will get back to normal.

“Once everybody starts to feel comfortable, and the case numbers have gone down, I think it’s going to be super busy,” Edmonston said.

A new bridge is visible Thursday, October 8, 2020, on a new section of trail just south of Sweetbriar Park in Fayetteville. A number of projects related to parks and trails in the city are continuing despite operational budget cuts because of the covid-19 pandemic. Niokaska Creek Trail was unveiled to the public Monday, and stretches from Gulley Park to Sweetbriar Park and connects to Mud Creek Trail to the north. Check out nwaonline.com/201011Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
A new bridge is visible Thursday, October 8, 2020, on a new section of trail just south of Sweetbriar Park in Fayetteville. A number of projects related to parks and trails in the city are continuing despite operational budget cuts because of the covid-19 pandemic. Niokaska Creek Trail was unveiled to the public Monday, and stretches from Gulley Park to Sweetbriar Park and connects to Mud Creek Trail to the north. Check out nwaonline.com/201011Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Decorated rocks are visible Thursday, October 8, 2020, on a new section of trail just south of Sweetbriar Park in Fayetteville. A number of projects related to parks and trails in the city are continuing despite operational budget cuts because of the covid-19 pandemic. Niokaska Creek Trail was unveiled to the public Monday, and stretches from Gulley Park to Sweetbriar Park and connects to Mud Creek Trail to the north. Check out nwaonline.com/201011Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Decorated rocks are visible Thursday, October 8, 2020, on a new section of trail just south of Sweetbriar Park in Fayetteville. A number of projects related to parks and trails in the city are continuing despite operational budget cuts because of the covid-19 pandemic. Niokaska Creek Trail was unveiled to the public Monday, and stretches from Gulley Park to Sweetbriar Park and connects to Mud Creek Trail to the north. Check out nwaonline.com/201011Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Sheryl and Wayne Pearson walk Meemo (left) and Beretta Thursday, October 8, 2020, as they pick up litter on a new section of trail just south of Sweetbriar Park in Fayetteville. A number of projects related to parks and trails in the city are continuing despite operational budget cuts because of the covid-19 pandemic. Niokaska Creek Trail was unveiled to the public Monday, and stretches from Gulley Park to Sweetbriar Park and connects to Mud Creek Trail to the north. Check out nwaonline.com/201011Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Sheryl and Wayne Pearson walk Meemo (left) and Beretta Thursday, October 8, 2020, as they pick up litter on a new section of trail just south of Sweetbriar Park in Fayetteville. A number of projects related to parks and trails in the city are continuing despite operational budget cuts because of the covid-19 pandemic. Niokaska Creek Trail was unveiled to the public Monday, and stretches from Gulley Park to Sweetbriar Park and connects to Mud Creek Trail to the north. Check out nwaonline.com/201011Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
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Recreation

To see a list of available programs with the Fayetteville parks department, go to:

fayetteville-ar.gov/recreation

Stacy Ryburn can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @stacyryburn.

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