Fayetteville seeks input for plotting path forward for parks – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FAYETTEVILLE — It will take more money, staff, land, programs and facilities to have the City of Fayetteville parks system keep up with the demands of its population.
A draft of a plan outlining ways to achieve those goals over the next decade came out last week. The 104-page plan from consultants Design Workshop in Denver and ETM Associates in Highland Park, N.J., is posted to the city’s website.
The City Council hired the consultants for $185,739. Work on the plan began in January of last year.
The city’s most recent park plan was released in 2002.
Anna Laybourn and Alison Bourquin with Design Workshop and Theresa Hyslop with ETM Associates hosted an online workshop last week with members of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board and staff. The trio introduced the basics of the plan and encouraged feedback.
The draft lists five sections of guiding principles: nature connection; stewardship and maintenance; active and well; gathering and placemaking and resilient natural systems.
The plan outlines a few goals with each principle. For instance, goals include increasing recreational opportunities in nature, lakes and streams. Encouraging interaction with nature in parks, particularly in urban areas, also is a goal.
The city needs to improve the financial stability of park operations with more funding sources and partnerships, it says. Existing park and facility improvements should be a priority. The city also should expand opportunities for volunteerism, community financial contributions and stewardship, according to the proposal.
The plan places emphasis in the “active and well” section on making parks and programs accessible to people of all abilities. The “gathering and placemaking” section says parks should serve as community gathering spaces for events and performances. Art should be integrated into the city’s public spaces, it says.
The city also should enhance the ecology of existing parks and land the city owns while making efforts to conserve additional land and strategically acquiring land for parks, according to the document.
The city’s parks system has a large list of deferred maintenance, Laybourn said. The dollar amount the city spends per resident on parks lags behind comparable cities in the nation, as does staffing, she said.
The plan says Fayetteville spends $59 per resident on parks operating expenses with a population of about 94,000. Carmel, Ind., with a population of about 100,000, spends $103 per resident; Fort Collins, Colo., with a population of about 169,000, spends $155 per resident; Roswell, N.M., with a population of about 48,000, spends $171 per resident and Boulder, Colo., with a population of about 105,000, spends $180 per resident. Data was taken in 2020.
The Parks Department primarily gets its money from sales tax, with a portion coming from fees associated with new residential developments. Residents also approved a $26.4 million bond issue for parks in 2019.
Although revenue and staffing for parks are lacking, simultaneously, the city has been taking on large capital projects because of grants and other sources, Laybourn said. For instance, the cultural arts corridor project to turn the Fay Jones Woods downtown into a nature attraction and the Walton Arts Center parking lot into a civic gathering space was kick-started in 2017 by a $1.77 million Walton Family Foundation grant. In 2020, the Underwood family donated land to create the 38-acre Underwood Park at the former Razorback Golf Course west of Dean Solomon Road. The park is largely undeveloped while staff comes up with a plan for what should go there and how to pay for it.
Alison Jumper, director of parks, natural resources and cultural affairs, said the city historically has used a service-based model for parks, as opposed to focusing on making money with its parks system. Fees to participate in programs are generally low or nonexistent, she said.
“We haven’t been super focused on cost recovery,” Jumper said “The main reason is for equity. We want to make sure our programs and facilities are accessible for people.”
The plan floats a few ideas for additional revenue.
One is to form a “friends of” group, like what the Fayetteville Public Library has, that would be in charge of fundraising. The program also recommends restructuring the fees for developers on new residential developments. Next year’s budget has $100,000 allocated to hire a consultant to study the recommendation.
The city gives developers of 24 or more new residential units the option to dedicate land to use as a park or to pay a one-time fee instead.
The amount for the fee is based on a formula using the land value per acre, park acres per person and number of people living in a unit. The rate is $1,089 per unit for a single-family development and $952 per unit for multifamily.
Money from the fee can be used for park construction or land acquisition to use for a park but not for park maintenance. Money can only be used in the quadrant of the city from which the fees were generated and has to be spent within five years.
Additionally, the city should consider a new parks bond issue for voters to review in 2027, according to the draft. It also suggests exploring the possibility of raising property taxes to pay for park operations, fostering more public-private partnerships and getting more corporate sponsorships.
All five sections of the proposal have about 20 recommended actions each. The plan does not project costs for the suggested actions.
For instance, it recommends assessing the feasibility of creating a nature center. Paddling recreation should be made available at Combs, Bayyari and Lake Sequoyah parks. A looped trail on the east side of the city should connect Mount Sequoyah and downtown, the outline says.
The project includes trail development in its “active and well” section as a means to promote physical activity and to potentially develop “linear parks” along trail routes.
The parks system also needs more indoor recreation, such as for basketball, pickleball and volleyball, according to the plan. In 2019, a group of residents pushed the city to include an indoor pool among the projects for the bond issue. Jumper said an indoor pool ranked low in the public input the city sought for the plan in person and online last year and this year.
The plan recommends each quadrant of the city have its own off-leash dog park. The city has two off-leash areas for dogs, one at Lake Wilson in the southeast part of town and another at Bryce Davis Park on the west side of town.
The city should have an online database identifying its natural areas and should come up with a conservation plan with money allocated to support it, according to the draft. The City Council approved taking on such a plan of action in November last year, putting $100,000 as a separate line item in the budget for this year to get it started.
Council Member Teresa Turk sponsored the measure. The city hired engineering firm Olsson to come up with an ecosystem services plan.
Adding pollinator gardens, native grasses and bird habitats and diversifying plant species in existing parks would “rewild” those public spaces, enabling residents to have more interaction with nature, the plan says.
Stephen Sheely, vice chairman of the parks and recreation advisory board, said he would like to see the plan include more information on the ways the parks system can be more accessible to people with physical disabilities. He also recommended the plan include a list of potential partner organizations for public land preservation, such as the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association, Watershed Conservation Resource Center and others.
Sheely suggested the parks board form a subcommittee to explore how to create a “friends of” fundraising group for parks.
“Begin that out of the advisory board,” he said. “Then start inviting others and get input from legal sources and other communities that have established these groups and see if we can get this started.”
The consultant team will incorporate feedback from residents and parks board members to put into a final plan to present to the City Council in January.

Print Headline: Fayetteville’s population spurs expansion of parks
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