Survey says ... city's parks vital

With the closing of an online survey last week, Trena Carter – municipal programs manager for Administrative Resources association, Columbus – briefed the Batesville Parks and Recreation board July 17 on the final results, which will ultimately influence the city's next five-year parks master plan.

"We had over 1,200 responses, which is pretty amazing," she revealed, placing the exact number at 1,212. "This gives you an idea that the parks are being widely used by a wide variety of ages. So you know you have a great parks system and are still working (to improve it)."

Carter outlined the next steps in the process, which include compiling all citizen participation information next month and a draft of the plan to be available for public comment in October. That draft will be presented to the board for authorization in November, then submitted to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for feedback in December. After comments are returned in January, final adoption would take place by April 15, 2020.

"It could potentially go a little faster, but there's plenty of time for public input," she remarked.

Eighty percent of respondents were residents and 66 percent were 20 years of age or under, she added, saying that did not necessarily skew the results.

Other stats were laid out.

A total of 92 percent used the parks in some manner, and the highest percentage of repeat users went between two to 10 times per month. The parks amenity used most often was Liberty Park, followed by Brum Woods, Batesville Memorial Pool, The Plex, Bill Gillespie Soccer Park and the small plot known as Weberding's addition.

What do people do there? Forty percent walk and the remainders were playing with children, exercising or socializing.

The walkers – 44 percent of them – enjoyed both paved pathways and smaller non-paved pathways as seen at Brum Woods.

Parks commissioner Mike Baumer said that was a little hard to gauge, since trails at The Plex made of road grindings seem quite unpopular.

Regarding feedback on the city's recreational needs, one response mentioned a skate park near Liberty Park.

ARa also provided a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, which Carter reviewed.

Strengths were: a small tightly focused department with dedicated staff who maintain and operate the parks; enthusiastic friends/volunteer groups; professionally-trained park and pool staff; dedicated and long-serving park board members who truly love Batesville parks; and a heavily used parks system with popular services and programs.

Weaknesses included: limited funds for park upgrades and projects; limited number of accessible play features and playground equipment; and limited acreage of outdoor public recreation land related to demand/interest.

On the latter note, the board wanted further explanation.

"Based on IDNR's preferred guidelines, Batesville's on the lower end of available acreage for outdoor recreation per capita," she told them.

The board's first inclination was to strike that statement due to ample rec opportunities in the city. But member Bob Fitzpatrick brought up the many reservoirs in Batesville, which are currently not park space.

"We should probably keep it in for that reason, that maybe someday we'll want to get the reservoirs under the parks system," said Baumer.

Under the opportunities banner came the following: trails system that's growing and well used; city has undeveloped open space in city limits, some wooded, and areas on the north side; parks department should raise funds in partnership with the Batesville Community Education Foundation or by grant match to fund desperately needed facility upgrades; department should partner with Batesville schools to allow for sharing outdoor rec facilities, as well as programming opportunities and maintenance sharing; and Southeastern Indiana YMCA is a great partner who could be linked to the trails system.

These prompted one minor change – deleting the word desperate in describing facilities.

Threats were: limited funds for park projects; limited access for a pedestrian connector over Interstate 74 to recreation opportunities on the north side, or for people on the north to connect to downtown and central Batesville; and heroin use in county is concerning due to fear of needles in parks.

Carter then relayed some brainstorming ideas fed by the SWOT analysis.

One is using economic development and business attraction to convince donors that parks expansion over time helps with the city's job retention and recruitment efforts.

Vice President Tim Hunter used the future northside park as an example of this.

"It's all about creating a place where people want to live," he said, adding that large employers Batesville Tool & Die and Margaret Mary Health are key supporters of the new park.

Carter continued with more ideas – seek land donations from donors for park expansion, especially of undeveloped land; continue to leverage volunteer groups to improve maintenance and safety of park features; consider cooperative efforts between parks and Batesville schools, i.e. D.A.R.E. or wellness programs; consider expanding sports/activity programs that the YMCA doesn't offer, like soccer and fishing; and work toward securing grant funding for trails and equipment upgrades.

Members were also asked to rank possible projects they'd like to see included. Once those results are in, projects will be ranked in priority from one to five.

Baumer started his commissioner's report with a northside park update.

After a late spring start due to rains, construction crews have had a solid two weeks, he said. Baumer said Schutte Excavating, Greensburg, has been great to work with and his department is out there two or three times a day with fill dirt. The parking lot is laid out as well as the vehicle ramp, playground equipment is on site and the designated area mapped out. His department salvaged a shelter from the abandoned eastbound I-74 rest park, which should be in place within two weeks.

The commissioner said the public may be surprised by the lack of trees inside the park – two sycamores – but pointed out wooded area surrounds the park, which also contains a wetlands. He may start a tree donation drive sometime in the future.

Baumer added that gagaball was approved for Liberty Park and could possibly be installed by late summer. He wished to thank Linda Pulskamp for continuing to hire someone to mow Weberding's addition, saving the city a lot of money. Another thank-you went to all volunteers, whose ranks seem to grow each year, according to Baumer.

Pool manager Jane Tekulve said rains spoiled opening weekend (Memorial Day) and season pass sales are a little down from last year. However, she said about 22 private parties were booked and daily attendance has been steady since the rough start.

Some maintenance issues were brought up, including an extra springy diving board, a slide that may need refurbished and some corrosion in the chemicals room. None of these were considered urgent.

The last weekday for the public is Aug. 6, a day before school starts locally. The pool will remain open weekends through Labor Day. Thursday late swims will be interrupted on Aug. 1, due to a Batesville Youth Football pool party.

Tekulve reminded that Aug. 5 is National Night Out; a free swim is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m., with some community organizations setting up booths.

Will Fehlinger can be contacted at sports@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 112.