On Dec. 7, 2017 at the District of Houston council chambers, Urban Systems landscape architect and community planner, Catherine Berris, presented to council the data collected from Houston earlier this year through surveys and the open house workshops, as well as a draft of the Houston parks and recreation 10 year master plan.
The purpose of the parks and recreation master plan is to guide District of Houston council and staff on the planning, design, use of parks, trails, recreation facilities, programs and events.
Approximately 20 people participated in the workshops and 121 responded to the surveys Urban Systems distributed in May 2017, which indicated that almost 90 per cent of the population participate in walking, hiking, and jogging paths through a park in Houston.
Relaxing at a park, visiting a play ground, and biking on a path or road were the next highest forms of participation in outdoor recreation found in Houston.
Steelhead Park recorded the highest usage from 91 per cent of the participants that did the survey and attended the workshop. Followed by Jamie Baxter Park, the duck pond walking trails, Irrigation Lake and Four Seasons Park.
According to Urban Systems, Houston residents said that the public washrooms ranked the highest for very to somewhat dissatisfied responses when it came to the satisfaction of outdoor recreation.
Since the surveys have been collected, it was noted by Berris that most of the washrooms around the parks have been upgraded. “It’s a simple fix that really improves the responses and engagement of recreational users,” said Berris.
Paths and trails for walking close to home was ranked as the highest form of satisfaction for outdoor recreation, followed by natural parkland, playgrounds, smaller parks close to where people live, and picnic facilities.
Use of the Houston Leisure Facility made up 68 per cent of the responses for participation in indoor recreation, followed by Claude Parish Memorial arena and the Houston Community hall. The report stated that 93 per cent of users were very to somewhat satisfied with drop-in swimming and 65 per cent said that there is an insufficient or lack of programming for teens 13 to 18.
Based on the information received, Urban Systems recommended replacing picnic tables, placing distance markers along popular trails, move-able play equipment for the Houston Leisure Facility, keeping the pool open later in the evening, equipment and more dry-floor programs in the arena, assistance program for financial support, and more frequent exceptions to the event regulation bylaw as quick wins that the District of Houston can begin right away.
In the short term recommendations, decommissioning of the Jamie Baxter baseball diamond was proposed to due safety reasons and usage, developing a replacement cycle for playgrounds, leasing area in Four Seasons Park, creating a scale of fees for amphitheatre use, promote availability of tennis courts at Houston Secondary School, design guidelines for new parks, upgrade Jamie Baxter Park, design a signage system, plan for replacing fitness equipment, create a system for 24/7 access to fitness centre, encourage more volunteerism, develop methods for improving maintenance, and increase the monitoring and enforcement of the dog bylaw.
In the medium term proposal section, improvement of Four Seasons park fields, constructing a field house at Four Seasons Park, relocating outdoor fitness equipment along Buck Creek to Jamie Baxter Park to make it more central and accessible to seniors at the Houston Senior Activity Centre and parents that watch their kids on the playground were suggested. As well as planning for a new and larger dog off-leash area at Jamie Baxter park, working with groups on the Jamie Baxter Park bike park, creating a multipurpose court at Jamie Baxter Park, and creating new multipurpose room for fitness classes.
The long-term recommendations include re-establishing a campground in the centre of Houston, and a pond for skating near the centre of town.
Ongoing recommendations include creating standards for neighbourhood parks in new developments, use open space and natural areas as parks, gather input on the planning and design of neighbourhood parks, replace playgrounds regularly, upgrade trails in high-use areas, improve signage for parks and trails, provide new trails in and outside of town, keep motorized vehicles off trails, work with teens to identify and offer programs, and coordinate economic development efforts.
The parks and recreation master plan focused on revamping Jamie Baxter Park, Four Seasons Park, Alexandra Park, and the green space across the railroad from Steelhead Park.
Some major revisions included decommissioning the ball diamond at Jamie Baxter Park and constructing a off-leash dog park.
“The off-leash park at Steelhead Park, are you proposing to eliminate it?” asked counsellor Tom Stringfellow.
“If it is serving a function, leave it as is, but add another one that serves as a function for the community,” said Berris.
Berris said that there may be opportunity there but believed Jamie Baxter Park would be more of a central opportunity for the community, and that the master plan did not focus on places like the duck pond trails or Steelhead Park because they were areas that had good foundation.
“The bones at the duck pond are good. Some trail maintenance in needed, but it’s the other parks in the community whose foundation and structure we want to develop,” said Berris.
“What are the concerns with unfenced dog parks and fenced dog parks?” asked counsellor Tait.
Berris said that you make the natural tree line the boundaries of the park, and that in general you could fence the area if there were surrounding activities you didn’t want dogs running off to
“What are the maintenance costs of keeping up a dog park?” asked counsellor Lundrigan.
“In dogs parks people get used to picking up after their pets. In terms of maintenance it is really no different from any other grass area,” said Berris.
“Is there any opportunity for dog parks by the duck pond trails?” asked counsellor John Siebenga.
“Why would we want to decommission a usable ball park in town at Jamie Baxter Park?” asked Rick Lundrigan.
“It’s not safe and that even if you design it and say that it is just for little kids, you’ll get other people playing there,” said Berris. “We talked to the community and found that there was not a demand to keep it, in fact, the real ball players said that they don’t want to be there, they want to be at Four Seasons Park.”
Tasha Kelly, manager of leisure services for the District of Houston added, “We don’t coach minor softball [at Jamie Baxter Park] anymore because kids can hit the ball out of the diamond onto the road or hit the Houston Health Centre.”
Upgrades to Four Seasons Park included fixing up the two soccer fields, and establishing a set parking lot, as well as foot paths and picnic areas.
Alexandra Park is located directly behind the Houston Leisure Facility, Claude Parish Memorial arena, and Houston Curling Rink. Berris said that there are some natural trails there that a little bit of work on beautification will draw more users to it.
“Is this more of a need to beautify the town, or a need to add in another park?” asked counsellor Lundrigan.
“It was once a developed park before the pool was built” said Kelly. “From my perspective I think this would be a good opportunity for us to redevelop it because of what we have going on there with the pool, the curling ring, and arena. It would be great for people to leave the pool and go back there to have their lunch.”
Turning the space across the railroad from Steelhead Park into a stormwater management pond with winter skating and summer fishing potential were one of the suggestions for the area.
“Are there any trends moving along that show what in 10 years kids are going to want to play with in terms of equipment on playgrounds?” asked counsellor Lundrigan.
“It is hard to predict, but there is definitely a swing away from the equipment intensive playground and more towards the things that are natural,” said Berris.
“How often do we do maintenance checks on the durability of our equipment?” asked counsellor Stringfellow.
“Once a year, and the equipment is currently not great, but still usable,” said Kelly.
“What is most of our equipment made of?” asked counsellor Lundrigan.
“Mostly plastic,” said Kelly.
“Is there a code we should have for certain trails to be bike use only and others walking use only?” asked counsellor Tait.
“You can do whatever you want. I don’t see any need to have that separation, I think it is a good idea to have your trails as multi-use trails,” said Berris.
“In your research did you find anything that would be an opportunity to increase the age and disability friendly aspect into our parks and recreation?” asked mayor for the District of Houston, Shane Brienen.
“Other than linking to the age and disability friendly plan, is there anything in particular that you think we should include?” asked Berris.
“No, I always feel it is important to try and stay active, and I think we really need people to be able to access a variety of walking trails,” said Brienen.