Public invited to review County Parks Master Plan

A draft version of the St. Joseph County Parks Five-Year Master Plan will be available for review and public comment, Thursday, February 7, 5:30-6:30 pm, in the Dickenson Room at the St. Joseph County Main Library in South Bend.

In addition to the public open house, the plan can be reviewed online Tuesday, January 22 through Monday, February 10. The link to the plan can be found on the St. Joseph County Parks’ web page at www.sjcparks.org At the meeting on February 7, there will be a brief presentation at 5:30pm by Troyer Group to review the process and findings. Troyer Group was engaged by the County Parks Board to facilitate the planning process.

Throughout the meeting time, the public can view display boards illustrating public input data, goals and strategies and park maps in an “open-house” format. Comment cards will be available, and County Park staff and representatives from Troyer Group will be present to answer questions.

The Five-Year Master Plan outlines goals and strategies for County Parks amenities, operations and programming for 2019 through 2023. Stakeholder meetings, focus groups, community pop-up sessions, and online and paper surveys in 2018, provided the basis for establishing the goals which form the framework for the plan.

A preliminary draft of the document, which includes a community analysis, was submitted to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for review and feedback. The final plan is due April 15, 2019 and will enable St. Joseph County Parks to be eligible for certain grants, such as those from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. County Parks director, Evie Kirkwood says, “The plan provides a roadmap rooted in public interest, for the Parks Board and staff, and the process gave us an opportunity to hear ideas from residents on what they would like to see in their parks.”

For example, public input noted that residents were most interested in having more paved bicycle and pedestrian trails and related amenities, something the County Parks has been working on collaboratively with MACOG and other entities. Residents were also interested in natural playgrounds, spaces where children can climb rocks, move logs and pump water in a free-play environment.

“The natural playground was an idea that surfaced during the planning process and fits well with our mission of connecting people, especially children, to the outdoors,” says Kirkwood.

Park staff is exploring fundraising opportunities for the project.

“Perhaps one of the largest challenges during this master plan process is that it was hard to think ‘big’ knowing that the ‘fiscal cliff’ could further squeeze our operating budget and that we have no capital project budget,” adds Kirkwood referring to property tax caps that will take full effect in St. Joseph County in 2020.

Public surveys last year also noted that it was important to take care of existing land and infrastructure, and the backlog of deferred maintenance throughout the County Parks.

The St. Joseph County Parks include Bendix Woods, Ferrettie-Baugo Creek and St. Patrick’s County Parks and Spicer Lake Nature Preserve.

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