Vision for parks includes dog park, trails and expansions

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

March 10, 2012 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated March 10, 2012 at 9:11 p.m.

Just past 8 a.m., Cindy Rogers, 53, of Victoria, drops her heavy arms after 10 reps of "up-downs."

She comes twice a week to Riverside Park to workout with her trainer, Cindy Hanson.

"It's a change of pace from the gym," she said. "It's not boring. We see the deer and armadillos. We watched the seasons change from underneath these trees."

Nearby, dressed in a turquoise tank-top and black jogging pants, 50-year-old Carolyn Guerra rounds the last corner of her four-mile walk, heaving with breaths of accomplishment.

"I'm here every day, so I obviously love the park," Guerra said. "There's the huge pecan trees, it's nice. They just need more."

For many residents, Victoria's parks are an escape from the ordinary, void of traffic, stress and the demands of daily life. However, some say the parks are tapped-out and more should be developed.

"On the weekends, every barbecue pit is taken, every bench is taken, there's no room for anybody else," Guerra said.

The city's parks and recreation department unveiled a 13-year plan last week that outlines 30 projects to update and improve Victoria's green spaces. From small renovations to park acquisition and development, the Parks 2025 Master Plan covers the gamut.

"This is our vision of where we see our department going," said Parks Director Doug Cochran. "Doing this is the easy part. The funding and getting everything built could be challenging depending on the city's economic situation."

The master plan's 30 projects total $13.82 million, which are expected to be funded through the general and utility funds, sales tax, donations, user fees, bonds and grants.

Some major projects call for developing a community park in North Victoria for $2 million, developing several hike and bike trails for $2.25 million, and developing a soccer field complex at the Victoria Community Center for $1 million.

Several projects are planned for Riverside Park including rebuilding about a mile of Red River Street in Riverside Park for $1.7 million, developing a mountain bike route for $10,000, adding security lighting for $250,000, adding three information stations for $75,000, acquiring land north of Riverside Park to preserve historical and natural resources for $200,000, and cleaning the Guadalupe River for $100,000.

Councilman Joe Truman has been a vocal supporter of developing the city's outdoor assets. He wants to focus on the projects the city can move quickly on - dog parks, mountain bike trails or a BMX park - first.

"It is a great partnership of tourism and quality of life," he said. "It's a win-win for everyone, that's what I like about it. It's activities we can use as Victorians and also invite people to come in and enjoy it."

Cochran said all 30 measures identified in the plan are vital to the community.

"These are things the public wanted," Cochran said. "Not everybody is going to be 100 percent behind all of them."

Parks are becoming more important to the community, he said.

"People are starting to embrace quality of life more," he said. "There are more young families moving in, and they want access to parks and events."

This new generation of homeowners "will expect and demand" a higher quality of life, Cochran said.

He said in the past five years the community has shown more support and interest in the parks system. Particularly since the 2007, bond election passed, the first relating to parks in more than 30 years.

Hanson, 55, of Victoria, has spent almost 30 years in the city as a personal trainer. She has seven clients who work out twice-a-week at Riverside Park, and has seen an uptick in interest over the past few years.

"I love it," Hanson said. "I think it's beautiful. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it an 8, but only because I've been to some really great parks."

Out of all the city offers, she said Riverside is her favorite for its size, trees and diversity.

"This is the city that I want to live in - seeing people outdoors and active," Hanson said. "It equates to healthy lifestyles and families having fun ... It's important for people to be outside enjoying the day."

Lisdha Jones, 43, of Alpine, likes coming to the duck pond at Riverside Park for the natural scenery.

She said she would meditate at the park, but sometimes there are too may people.

Last May, the parks department surveyed residents about the parks system, what they liked and what they wanted improved.

Based on the survey, the top five priorities included adding a water park, an amphitheater with stage, dog parks, restrooms and all-weather trails.

About 60 percent of survey respondents said the city's park system was average; 15 percent said it was above average. Cochran wants those numbers switched.

"We want a major emphasis on taking care of what we have," Cochran said.

The 2025 plan adds three neighborhood parks and one community park.

"We don't fully get there in this plan," Cochran said. "It doesn't mean things can't change."

Cochran said the city does not meet national standards on neighborhood and community parks.

According to those specifications, there should be a 1.25-acre neighborhood park for every 1,000 people or a five-acre community park for every 1,000 people.

The city would need to add 33 acres or three neighborhood parks to meet that standard, Cochran said.

Currently, the city has about six miles of trails. By national standards, it should have 30 miles, Cochran said. However, as outlined in the plan, the parks department is planning to add three to five miles of trails by 2025.

"This is just a plan at what we would look at in a sequence basis," Cochran said. "As opportunities become available, things can move around."

He wants to see more opportunities for children to play outdoors, whether in structured settings or just running around.

"There's a lot to say for a kid who gets to go outside and play," Cochran said.

He said the parks and recreation staff intends to revisit the plan every two years.

"A dream park system would be one with parks the citizens want, it would be near their homes and they would use it," Cochran said. "We want to have a system that people are proud of and want to show off."



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