Park District

This morning I had a discussion with Decatur Park Board Commissioner Chris Riley, regarding the closing of Big Creek Riding Center.  I had expressed my concerns over the closure of the facility.

I sensed that the park board has abandoned the idea of a horse stable working there and see the site as a prime location to generate revenue by leasing the land for private development.  That was what I was fearing.  He didn’t come out and say that.  That’s just what I came away with, so take that for what it’s worth.

Another idea that Riley tossed out but didn’t seem confident would happen because of the lack of funds, would be to develop a facility similar to the Decatur Indoor Sports Center at Big Creek.  Personally, I love that idea.  There isn’t anything similar on the east end of Decatur.

If it were up to me, I would be pushing for that option.

6e47810a30ef11e383fe22000a1faeaf_7Regarding my suggestion of transferring the land to the conservation district, he thought that the park district would be giving up an asset for nothing in return.  I can see his point however, it’s public land and as part of the public, I want it in caring hands.  I don’t care if the park district or the conservation district has it; I just want whoever has control of it, to protect and preserve it. Yes, I’m a tree-hugging conservation nut, and I always will be.

As far as the maintenance of Big Creek after it closes, he told me that it will be mowed in the summer and all the utilities will be turned off.  It could be rented out for events.

Even after our discussion, I would have not closed Big Creek.  There are other parks and facilities that are costing more, and offer little to no revenue to the park district.  At least the stables brought in revenue.  I would have kept the stables open until a concrete plan, favored by the public, was in place.

I respect Riley’s opinion, and I appreciate him speaking with me.  I do share his opinion and vision about other things going on in the park district.  I thank him for being willing to sit down and talk.

95535c723bdc11e39aee22000a9f38e6_8We spoke about lakefront development and I’m happy to see that moving forward.  The new penguin exhibit in Scovill Zoo is loved by many.  Otters will hopefully be coming in a couple years.  I’m excited about the Beach House renovations and the new miniature golf course that will open in the spring of 2014.

The park district has many excellent programs and I share his passion for seeing that the park district keeps improving, even with a shrinking population.  We probably disagree on golf courses but as we talked about, everyone has different interests.  I just care more about horses than I do golf courses!  That’s just me.

Others love golf and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as neither side takes away the other side’s enjoyment.  We shouldn’t have to sacrifice programs and facilities to cater to smalls groups of people.  There has to be a balance.

Regarding Big Creek, I still don’t see the urgency of closing it, or why it was chosen over other park owned sites, unless some type of development is in mind for the location, and that’s what worries me. Again, Riley said that there isn’t anything in the works, so I don’t want to give the impression that he told me anything of the sort.  It’s just my intuition.

Again, I would push for a sports center over private development any day of the week.  I would incorporate the horse trails and maybe even a stable for the site.  After all, it’s already set up for it.  It’s a beautiful location and I want whatever its future purpose is to continue improving the quality of life of Decatur residents.

I think everyone on the park board wants what is best for Decatur and we’re not going to agree 100% of the time how to do that.  There’s no good guy or bad guy; we just disagree.  I think I could turn that into a song!

 

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Yesterday I took a walk around the soon to be closed Big Creek Riding Center in Decatur.  I had never been to the facility before but I always admired it as I drove by.  How could anyone not get pleasure out of seeing horses peacefully munching away in a pasture while we drive past, often with a million worries on our minds?  The closing of Big Creek has only added some additional worries. Yeah, I worry too much…

two_horsesI worry what will become of the place.  It concerns me that I haven’t heard a plan for the land or the buildings.  I wonder if closing it is really going to save us any money in the long run, if the cost is watching several buildings, fences, and on-site facilities deteriorate over time.

Big Creek is a beautiful setting of rolling hills and winding wooded trails.  It’s not far from Lake Decatur, Sportsman’s Park and a Girl Scout Camp.  There are several large metal buildings and a small outdoor arena for rodeos.  I watched workers tending to a couple horses on the lower pasture as I took pictures.

I just kept thinking to myself, as I stood on a high hill overlooking the lower pasture, “How could this not be worth saving?”  At least the stables do generate revenue and the site has the potential to bring in people for events. The site won’t generate any income now but we’ll still have to maintain the property. At least I hope we maintain it.

Still, I’m not comfortable looking at park land with dollar signs in my eyes.  The best things in life have nothing to do with money.

Parks aren’t money-making franchises; they’re about appreciating what is good in our lives and in our natural world.  Yes, the park district shouldn’t foolishly spend more than it brings in but $60,000 doesn’t seem like much to overcome.  How many parks in Decatur turn a profit anyway? I doubt any of them.

As Decatur continues to lose population, some parks are going to have to be scaled back or closed.  It’s a sad reality and I understand it but I’m concerned over the lack of details regarding the future plans of Big Creek.  I just want to make sure that it will be in good hands.

Some questions I have:

What will it’s purpose be?  Will events still be held there?  Will buildings be maintained and at what cost?  Will trails continue to behorse_crossing_sign maintained?  How will the site be promoted?  Will the land remain as a refuge for wildlife?  Are there plans for development or re-purposing? Would it be better to turn the land over to the Macon County Conservation District?  Could the stables reopen under private ownership, such as a lease?  Most of all, what is the overall vision for the facility 5, 10, 15+ years from now? 

I’ve sent these questions to the park board and I’ll let you know their response.

 

 

 

 
 

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I took my camera out to Nelson Park and got a few shots of the new miniature golf course that is quickly taking shape.  I was curious how the course would be laid out and I’m impressed.  The meandering paths, lined by stone and other natural looking elements are a big improvement over Paul’s Puttin’ Place.

The theme of the course is escaped animals from Scovill Zoo, which should be fun.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for their arrival.  I would imagine a fence will going up around the course to protect it.

The first few photos are of earlier this year after the old Nelson Park golf course clubhouse had been removed.  It was sad to see it go but it’s usually cheaper to build new than retrofit.

Also coming to the golf course is a CherryBerry, which should be a big hit and fit in nicely.  The only thing that would be better is a Krekel’s but one is located just down the road.

(Click on the images for a larger view or slideshow.)

After the old golf club house had been removed, making way for the new.

After the old golf club house had been removed, making way for the new.

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The view before construction had begun in the Spring of 2013.

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Another view of site preparation. Not much to see yet.

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New clubhouse going up! It’s going up quickly.

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Many of the winding concrete sidewalks through the new course have been poured. Here workers are attending to a bridge.

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We can begin to see how the course is going to look with the stone. Sure an improvement over Paul’s Puttin’ Place. No offense to Paul’s because I’ve had a lot of great times there!

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Somewhere along these winding paths, players will be greeted by “escaped zoo animals”. That will be the theme of the course.

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A closer look at the stone lined, winding paths.

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A crane hoists lumber for the new clubhouse.

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One of the wooden steps along the path taking shape.

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These workers aren’t messing around. The course is scheduled to be ready for business in the Spring of 2014.

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A peek at the clubhouse through the many mature trees that were left standing. I’m glad they have been incorporated into the course instead of removed.

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The length of the new clubhouse, September 2013.

 

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I would highly encourage every Decatur resident to take a look at the Decatur Park District Master Plan slideshow.  It clearly paints a picture of the current state of Decatur and unfortunately it’s not a pretty picture.

Many of the statistics aren’t very surprising to most who live here.  Most of us are aware that Decatur has lost a significant amount of its population since the early 1980s.  Much of the decline is due to the loss of thousands of high-paying manufacturing jobs that were outsourced to other countries and states.  Many of those positions have not been replaced by new manufacturing.

Golfing, What’s That?

Decatur’s three-golf courses lose an average of $200,000 per year.  The number of rounds played at our courses has decreased from 190,000 in 1990 to only 76,800 in 2012.  The decrease is a result of a declining populations and a decreasing interest in golf.

The master plan proposes, “reinventing” Scovill Golf Course as a more casual facility offering 3,6, and 9 hole options for shorter and more affordable playing.  I think this is a good idea.  The plan did not recommend closing a course but indicated that it may be a necessity in the future.

Not The Horses!

I am disappointed about the recommendation to close the Big Creek Riding Stables.  I hope that a private company can take it over and make it profitable by putting more energy and creativity into it.  It is a very attractive site and surely something good can happen there.  I would insist on preserving the wooded area though.  Macon County has very few natural spaces left for the critters.  Lets not destroy what little we have left.

Neighborhood Parks

I am happy with the recommendations for our neighborhood parks.  The plan recommends 3-5 neighborhood facilities district-wide featuring indoor field house space, indoor cultural activity space, and multi-sport fields.

I also support water recreation facilities located in neighborhoods.  I suggested the same thing a few months ago.  The plan recommends 1-3 to be created within the district.  I believe we need at least two.  The Ravina/Home Park area is without any nearby recreational facilities of any significance.  There’s other parts of Decatur that are not located near recreational centers as well.

I would love to have one built in my neck of the woods because my kids pretty much sat at home for 2 1/2 months straight this summer because there’s nothing to do in their neighborhood.  The house next to mine has been on the market for close to a year and I haven’t seen on person look at.  We take care of another house on Ravina Park Road, that has been for sale for nearly the same amount of time, and the owner has priced it below its value and still hasn’t had even an insulting offer placed on it.

My neighborhood is way too nice of an area for homes not to be selling.  I don’t want to see it become a neighborhood full of rental properties and another neighborhood in Decatur swallowed up by poverty.  Bringing some new life to the area in the form of a top-notch aquatic/recreational facility would help us greatly.  It would increase property values, help attract and retain residents, and address obesity issues.  I support lakefront development but I support neighborhood redevelopment even more.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t know many things but the further I go on in my education I am gaining expertise in these issues.   Environmental science is about a lot of things but neighborhood and park planning is certainly part of what I’m learning.  So while I still have much to learn, I think at least in this area, I have at least a little bit of credibility.  I might be a goofball in everything else but not this.

I might just run for the park board someday. I’ve been told it’s one of the hardest seats to win.  Next year I’ll have my degree and then I’ll be dangerous. Ha!

You can download the presentation by visiting the Decatur Park District Website.  The link is currently on the home page titled Master Plan Presentation.

References

“Decatur Park District Comprehensive Parks and Recreation MASTER PLAN”. August 2013. Web. 22 Aug 2013.

 

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A few weeks ago a family member told me about a petition that was going around the neighborhoods surrounding Nelson Park.  The petition was in regards to housing plans for the Nelson Park area.

Apparently many have been told that the housing planned, as part of lakefront development, was going to be for low-income residents, similar to Wabash Crossing.  I told my family member that information wasn’t true because I had read through all of the plans, been to lakefront development meetings, and know that one of the major goals of the plan is to attract young professionals to the area.  They wouldn’t be doing that with Section 8 housing!

If you would like to learn more about the plans for the lakefront, I encourage you to download the Master Plan which can be found at:  http://www.lakeshorelanding.org/project-summary/.  Click on the link titled “Nelson Park Master Plan”.  It provides many details for the entire project.

If you have questions/comments/concerns please contact the park board members themselves at:  http://www.decatur-parks.org/decatur-park-district-decatur-il/about-us/

 

 

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