Parks advisory board looks forward to project completion
Parks have long been considered one of the strongest facets of West Linn (along with schools).
When asked why they moved here, many West Linn transplants will name parks as one of the top reasons.
While many groups are responsible for West Linn's parks being what they are — City Parks and Rec department staff, the various Friends groups, the countless volunteers who help preserve the parks — one group that shares a large portion of that responsibility is the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
The board, created to advise the City Council and staff on all things parks-related, meets monthly to discuss matters from unsafe trees, to park trails, from grass mowing to park restrooms.
For PRAB Chair Stacy Epsteen, one of the biggest accomplishments of the PRAB in the past year was the adoption of the 20-Year Master Plan for Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces.
The parks department, PRAB, planning commission and city council considered the plan for more than a year before it was adopted in October.
She was also pleased that the City was named the 80th Bee City in the nation last spring. The parks department had worked for months on pollinator gardens and other pollinator-friendly landscaping to achieve this honor.
Epsteen was not shy in her praise of the department staff for all that was accomplished in 2019.
"With all the cuts they've had over the years, but they've continued to be heroic in the amount of events and activities and projects that they push forward, it's always quite amazing to me," she said, noting that she was glad that the PRAB could be of support to the busy department.
As parks are such a significant aspect of the community, many parks-related matters naturally spark debate.
"I think it's seldom that, right out of the gate, we're unanimous (as a board)," Epsteen said. "What I have seen is that disagreement is always handled quite respectfully among the parks board members, and some of it is very healthy disagreement."
She noted that with two new members, the dynamic is likely to change. The City Council recently appointed two new members to the seven-member PRAB, which saw 30 applicants this year.
In the coming year, Epsteen said she wants the PRAB to engage with the community more, especially outdoors. She said that last spring, the board hosted one of its meetings at Maddax Woods, and this year would like to host more meetings at various parks around the city.
Throughout the parks master plan adoption process, two components that sparked a lot of discussion were an aquatic center and a recreation center.
West Linn has considered a community pool many times before, though the idea was eventually turned down by voters. This year, the idea of a pool polled well in an initial community survey by the parks team, but the debate on how to make a pool financially feasible raged on.
"When we did our outreach to the community — I believe it was three different types of outreach — we heard consistently that folks wanted a pool, but they weren't anxious to pay for it right now, so I think it's good that we have it in the master plan (for the future)," she said.
Sometime down the road, opportunities for a public-private partnership or grants might make the prospect of a pool more affordable to the City, Epsteen said.
She was also very supportive of the idea of a community recreation center, though she noted the City would have to be similarly creative to make it affordable. As a grandmother of kids in the community, Epsteen said a recreation center for kids to use after school is critical, especially in the winter.
While it may not be feasible to make all of West Linn's parks ADA compliant in one year, accessibility is one thing Epsteen said she'd really like the PRAB to work on.
"Our parks should be for everyone," she said. "That is very important to me and the board."
Another significant prospect for the PRAB to look at this year is the future of a White Oak Savanna natural play area.
A plan for a play area at the savanna was nearly ready to move forward when the Savanna Oaks Neighborhood Association asked the City Council to reconsider. The council then asked the parks department to take another look at the designs.
"If it's not accepted by the neighborhood, then there's a problem," Epsteen said of the proposed play area.
Mostly Epsteen said she's looking forward to the completion of several parks projects funded by the 2018 GO Bond, which will hopefully fix irrigation problems at Mary S. Young, build a boat barn at Maddax Woods and rebuild Sunset Park.
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