Westside Park now has a draft template for its post-Dakota Territorial Museum future.
That draft just needs a Yankton City Commission stamp of approval.
Parks & Recreation Director Todd Larson told the Press & Dakotan that, in addition to the Dakota Territorial Museum’s move to the Mead Cultural Education Center — which will mean the removal of all their structures from Westside Park area —many facets of the park are in need of their own upgrades.
“We need to replace the playground equipment that’s found in that park,” Larson said. “We need to replace the bridge leading from the land to the island. With all of those changes and Mount Marty College being gifted the athletic field property north of the park, the city felt it was important to do some planning.”
He said that no master plan had previously been drawn up on the park, so city leaders decided to use a method that’s paid dividends over the last few years on other projects — asking the public what they’d like to see.
“We had the vision that we’d probably need to do a master plan, and to do that the right way, we need to meet with community members,” he said. “That got us to start having meetings after our Park Advisory Board meetings back in April … and also in May. As part of those meetings, we did some mapping where we had an aerial view of the park, had people draw on it and talk about what spaces could be used for. We had a general session where we just talked to them and did a visual preference survey. … We also did some direct questions in small groups about what they like and what they don’t like in the park.”
The meetings were inspired by those similarly held to discuss the new aquatic center, Design South Dakota and the Mead Neighborhood Concept.
From these meetings, three different plans were considered — an active park plan, a family-gathering friendly park plan and one utilizing more greenspace and flower gardening.
Larson said much of the summer was spent gathering online feedback on the three plans, and with roughly 250 residents giving feedback, Larson said the public was able to whittle those three concepts into one.
“What we heard through the whole process was that people really like the park the way it is,” he said. “They’d just like to see a few updates or a little better maintenance and upkeep of some of the facilities in the park. That’s what got us to the master plan we unveiled (last) Monday night.”
In addition to the upgrading of the bridge and playground equipment, the master plan includes a large flower garden where some of the museum’s buildings are now, new restrooms, additional picnic shelters including a four-season picnic shelter, a second fountain, a pond wildlife habitat, trail fitness equipment, additional walking trails, a bocce ball court, more parking, added seating, an ADA-accessible fishing dock, lighting upgrades, bike racks and a hammock commons.
Larson said that the master plan also moves the playground equipment around in the park.
“We would look to move playground equipment to just north of the basketball court,” he said. “There’s a long, flat stretch in that park where we wouldn’t have to do a lot of grading to go up and down. It’s flat (enough) to get the playground and fall material in there.”
He said this decision was also done with an eye toward safety.
“As a part of the discussion, we’d talked about having the playground equipment closer to the trail and down by the water,” he said. “What we heard from people is, if you have multiple kids there and — depending on ages — if you’re focused on one and one or two of them get away and they’re running towards the water and you don’t have a chance to catch them. So just for safety aspect, having the playground up and away from water would be good.”
Previously, there had been some discussion of moving the skate park and tennis courts elsewhere. However, these still appear in Westside Park as part of the master plan.
Larson said the master plan will be finalized with comments given at the latest Parks Advisory Board meeting and will be before the City Commission during the board’s Aug. 26 meeting for consideration of adoption.
If approved, Larson warned that it doesn’t mean all of these ideas will be coming to fruition in the next year or two.
“We’ve been trying to tell people this isn’t a master plan that’s funded next year or in the next five years,” he said. “This is a plan that is going to have to be implemented over the next 20 years to see all of these amenities come to fruition. It’s going to be a long process, but we have a master plan, so now we know what we’re building, where we’re building it, why we’re building it and can go from there.”
He said planners intend to start small with some of the first potential projects including signs about feeding the ducks and geese and adding some duck feeding stations that will dispense safe foods for the animals.
The playground equipment is also slated in the near-term in the Capital Improvements Plan.
Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.