Parks plan draws plenty of comment

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(Photo by MARY MALONE) More than 100 people put in their input on the future Sandpoint Parks and Recreation Master Plan during an open house on Wednesday, the results of which were presented during a public meeting Wednesday night at The Hive.

SANDPOINT — From ice rinks and splash pads, to pickleball and promenades, a number of ideas have been tossed around for the various parks and recreation areas around the city as the master planning process moves forward.

During Wednesday’s open house at City Hall, more than 100 people gave their input on the different ideas, the preliminary results of which were presented at an evening meeting held at The Hive. The open house and meeting were hosted by the city and its contractors for the master plan, GreenPlay, LLC, and Bernardo Wills Architects, in regards to War Memorial Field, City Beach and the downtown waterfront, the city watershed property and the sports complex, including Travers, Centennial and Great Northern fields.

“In this phase of the project, we are really looking at some site specific planning of our overall Parks and Recreation Master Plan,” City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said during the evening meeting.

In July, the city sent out approximately 3,000 surveys to randomly selected Sandpoint residents, which GreenPlay project manager Tom Diehl said will provide a statistically valid result. Another online survey, which closes today, was open to anyone who wished to provide comments to help shape the 20-year plan as well. Each person who attended the open house was given green, yellow and red stickers to place on display boards indicating the ideas they liked, were neutral on, or disliked.

While the survey results are not yet available, Diehl and landscape architect Dell Hatch provided the quick-count results from Wednesday’s open house.

“This information is going to be combined with the online survey,” Hatch said. “So it’s not just this information that is going to help us come up with some concept plans, it is that combined information.”

Starting with City Beach, Diehl and Hatch found that a carousel and/or gathering place at the beach was desirable by those who attended, as was a splash pad which was “overwhelmingly” desirable, Hatch said, though it was later discussed during the meeting that a splash pad might be better in a different park. Also desirable were playground enhancements, upgrades to or additional restrooms, parking improvements. Among the neutral category was common furniture — matching benches and trash cans, etc. — as well as court games such as pickleball or ping-pong, concessions and rentals of kayaks and paddle boards. An off-leash dog park and promenade were considered undesirable.

At the Sand Creek downtown waterfront area, which includes Farmins Landing and the boardwalk, desirable improvements included an ADA accessible kayak launch, additional walking trails, waterfront dining areas and ice skating. Public art, a promenade, historic or environmental opportunities, commercial concessions and a new parking lot or garage were all neutral, and a gathering space for group activities was undesirable.

Hatch said while War Memorial Field extends to Lakeview Park, the boat launch and the pickleball courts, their focus was primarily within the boundaries of the field. Among those who attended Wednesday’s open house, artificial turf at the field was largely undesirable, while grass fields were desirable. The turf at Memorial Field has been a topic of discussion at the city since 2017, with athletic enthusiasts on one side and the Festival at Sandpoint on the other. The controversy rose again during Wednesday’s meeting as some community members, including current and former school board members, pointed to the extended seasons artificial turf would provide for the athletic groups. Others said artificial turf would not be compatible with the Festival and would negatively affect the economic impact the summer concert series has on the city each year. City Council will ultimately make a decision on the turf, though it was put on hold as they entered the master planning process.

Also desirable at Memorial Field were upgraded restroom facilities and parking improvements. Additional improvements to the grandstands were considered neutral, and a track, promenade and outdoor exercise equipment were undesirable.

The next area discussed was the sports complex, where a gathering area or performance space, splash pad, improved grass fields and playground improvements were desirable. Additional bleachers were neutral and artificial turf, an exercise course on the perimeter trails, recreational vehicle space and common furniture were undesirable.

The final board was for the city watershed property, a 7,000-acre drainage in the area of Schweitzer Mountain Road. In that area, cross country skiing was desirable, as were mountain bike trails, hiking trails and sledding opportunities. Interpretive signage was neutral, and a BMX bike track, zip lines, disk golf and an adventure course were considered undesirable.

In the follow-up discussion Wednesday night, several people in the audience expressed a desire for a pickleball complex.

“We know from what we do that it is one of the fastest growing sports,” Diehl said. “It is on our radar to make sure that we have pickleball courts included in our master plan.”

Diehl said they will be back between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2 to provide the public an update and overall summary of surveys and studies. After drafting a report, they will return again in November to garner public feedback before coming back with a final plan to present to City Council.

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

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