Maplewood parks to get a makeover


Children enjoy a fall afternoon at Maple Heights Park. Located just east of Maplewood Mall, it's one of the city's busier parks. (Tim Faklis/Review)

Years of planning starting to take form

According to city officials, Maplewood's parks are simply not cutting it anymore.

Maplewood parks manager Jim Taylor went as far as to say that the city hasn't done a good enough job historically keeping the infrastructure updated at its 36 parks.

As a result, the parks staff and city council members have been discussing and outlining possible ways to give the park system the upgrades they say are necessary and long overdue.

The cost of the projects and the official start dates depend on a great number of things, including where the city will get the majority of the funding it needs for the renovations. The past couple years have been spent reviewing potential improvements; now it's time to determine how to accomplish them, Taylor said.

"The first step is finding out what (residents) want; the next is figuring out how to pay for that," he added.  There are lots of options on the table: soliciting private funding; start a foundation, or possibly having a park referendum at some point."

Mayor Nora Slawik said there isn't a concrete number yet on overall costs, but estimates are being compiled.

Still, the important thing for now, according to Taylor, is to start by focusing on what needs repairing.

'Passion for parks'

"We have this aging infrastructure," Taylor said in a recent interview. "We have a (park) system that was built 30-some years ago, and we didn't really have a very good asset-management plan to keep up with that system."

Taylor said that the city council and mayor have been "extremely supportive" in the ongoing process, and have made the planning go very smoothly. Part of that may be Slawik's passion for parks, and promotion of active living and physical activity.

"I'm a parks-and-rec major, so this is something that's very important to me," Slawik explained. "I think we hear from a lot of the residents that parks are a very high priority. I think that (the park staff and city leaders) have taken a really good approach with the way they're doing the planning."

Patronage dropping

On a recent visit to Maple Heights Park, Andrea, who declined to give her last name, said she frequently takes her young cousins Lizzy and Ben to Maple Heights Park, which is located east of Maplewood Mall at 2070 Beam Ave.

Although Maple Heights is one of the busier parks in the city, she has noticed a general decline in patronage.

She said during the warm days of summer "five or so families at a time" would visit the park. "A guy and his kid; a woman and her two kids; there were lots of families coming and going." But once autumn arrived, usage trailed off quickly, and now she and her little cousins are often the only ones in the 25-acre park, even on pleasant days, she said.

A lifelong resident of the area, she remembers a time when the parks were in even worse shape than they are today.

"I grew up here, and like 20 years ago we used to get splinters on the equipment," she said. "It's better now, but that's not to say that the parks don't need updating."

Taylor concurred that there is a lot of work to be done. Maplewood has 36 parks and 930 acres of designated open spaces, and he said the important thing is to make sure the city finds a better way to maintain all that parkland.

Slawik had one word in particular to describe the city's goal.

"We're looking to make our parks more sustainable," she said. "I think that's the main word here: Sustainable. "

Proposed transit lines in parks

One concern that has been discussed among city personnel is a pair of proposed state transit projects - Gateway Corridor and Rush Line - that will traverse Maplewood. They're currently drawn up to go near and through parks and trails.

Taylor said the important thing is to stay in touch with the planners for each of the two rapid-transit projects.

"We keep an eye on that. It will be mentioned as part of the transportation part of our plan," Taylor said. "It's all related, but for us, it's dealing with our (park) system, our trails, our acreage, and everything else that goes along with that."

Some things that have been proposed by city personnel and resident participants are "destination-type parks" that people from all over the community would go to for various outdoor events.

Other possible amenities mentioned are outdoor water features such as splash pads, and more recreational stations for the kids. Taylor said whether or not those things will be added depends on the amount of funding that eventually becomes available.

You can reach Tim Faklis at 651-748-7814, at tfaklis@hotmail.com, or on Twitter @tfaklisnews.

 

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