Public weighs in on city parks plan

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SANDPOINT — A master planning effort is underway to develop a comprehensive vision for the future of Sandpoint parks and recreation.

“This has been a long-time coming and we are really excited to kick this off,” said Mayor Shelby Rognstad during a public engagement meeting at The Hive on May 2. “What we are really trying to do here is envision what is possible for the city of Sandpoint and the surrounding region, in terms of parks and recreation, for 20 years and beyond.”

The city contracted GreenPlay, LLC, to develop the comprehensive plan, and representatives from the company were in town last week hosting focus groups and stakeholder meetings, in addition to Thursday’s public meeting.

GreenPlay project manager Tom Diehl said they asked stakeholder and focus groups a series of questions about area parks and recreation options. The answers were compiled and presented to community members, who had a chance to look them over and add any they thought should be included.

The first question asked was, “What are the strengths of the city’s parks and recreation?” Some of the answers the GreenPlay team heard multiple times during the focus groups were in regards to City Beach, playgrounds suitable for children of all ages, marina amenities, big parks with fields and open space, and good athletic fields. Nearly 30 more answers were listed as well.

During last week’s meeting, community members added that the city and surrounding area is strong in its partnerships with local groups and organizations, the Festival at Sandpoint, biking opportunities and trails among others.

The next question surrounded weaknesses or areas of improvement that should be considered. Again, there were a number of answers repeated during the focus groups and stakeholder meetings, including the need for improvement in trail connectivity, things for teenagers to do, access to fields year-round, volleyball court expansion, tennis court surfaces, and a lack of winter amenities. Nearly 40 more weaknesses or areas of improvement were listed as well.

Community members added there is a need for more dog-friendly trails, areas for bicycle camping, and advertisements for what is available.

A teenager attended the meeting on behalf of those who use the skatepark regularly, and said lighting for the park is a priority. A bigger skatepark would be ideal, he said, because there are “a lot” of skaters who utilize the park. Another community member agreed, noting it is one of the “most used” parks in the city.

The next topic was additional activities people would like to see in the community, for which skating and teen activities were at the top of the list. Pickleball was mentioned a couple of times during the meeting, and Rognstad added his own suggestions of a tidal pool and a splash park. Other suggestions included a driving range, foosball, ping pong, a pool hall for under 21, outdoor fitness equipment and more.

Many of the activity suggestions crossed over with desired amenities as well. Some of the facilities at the top of the list were skating and ice skating rinks, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, a carousel with an event space, a multi-use indoor facility and a multi-sport complex for indoor activities. Nearly 40 more facilities were listed in areas ranging from trails and dog parks, to golfing and indoor concert venues.

The teenager who brought up the need for lighting and a bigger skatepark earlier in the meeting again spoke up, pointing out that an indoor skatepark would be good in the “harsh” winter months.

Diehl also asked about portions of the city that are underserved, and winter and shoulder season activities were at the top of the list, as well as a lack of trail connectivity. The group again heard from the young man on the skatepark.

“I can’t emphasize this enough,” he said. “The skatepark area is very small. There is a lot of people there — it is very crowded some days.”

The audience applauded the young man for speaking his mind, as did Diehl.

“I give you a lot of credit for being here and speaking up,” Diehl said.

Other topics covered during the meeting included initiatives identified for funding such activities and facilities in the future, key stakeholders, and key issues and values.

For the final question, Diehl asked what the priorities are. Ideas he heard in the previous stakeholder and focus groups included the multi-purpose indoor facility, improved communication between Sandpoint and Schweitzer Mountain, turf fields, ice skating, indoor pool, infrastructure at City Beach and a number of indoor recreation options.

Diehl said they will take all of the information they learned during the focus groups, stakeholder and public meetings, and share it with a survey firm. A community-wide needs assessment survey will go out to a random selection of 3,000 residents within city limits in about six weeks. While that survey will be limited, a survey will go online in approximately three months, which can be accessed by all residents inside or outside of city limits.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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