BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – As a result of direction from the Mayor’s office, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Docks Board spent this weekend visiting all city parks as part of a process to create a five-year plan.
Sunday the board toured Ivanhoe, Shopton, Victory and Old Settlers parks. On Saturday, they toured Riverview, Rodeo and Central parks.
The tours were spurred from a conversation the board had with Mayor Matt Mohrfeld at a meeting last month where Mohrfeld challenged the board to come up with a five-year plan that would outline a long-term vision for city parks.
Board member Hugh Vandegriff said he sees a the board’s role as a go-between for the community and city leaders.
“I think the key thing is our role to liaison with the community to get that feedback on what needs to happen,” he said, “This is a good first step in getting that feedback. Then we have to ask for more public review.”
Going through the parks most needed improvement in handicap parking and restrooms or portapotties. Several parks had trees laying in the park and stump issues.
The group said Central Park was in pretty good shape with the exception of some stumps. Board member Sue Pieper said Fort Madison Rotary is doing an excellent job maintaining the park.
In Riverview Park the board said the Marina needs some work but a separate group is steering those discussions.
Pieper said the group thought a soft launch for kayaks and canoes somewhere along the riverfront would be a good addition as well as more regular cleanup of the embankment.
They also suggested additional historical and wildlife signage along the drive and getting the fountain functional in all seasons. A discussion was rekindled about a possible camper area at the west end of the park in the western most parking lot, and possible camping space in the timber to the west of the parking lot.
In Rodeo Park the group said full hookups would be a great addition in as well as a few more pads for more campers on both sides of electrical hookups. The horseshoe pits could use renovation as well as some improvements to the kids playground area focusing on younger children.
Pieper said another bridge is needed at the end of Scenic Drive.
“We are so fortunate that a few years ago all of our shelter houses were repainted and are in pretty good shape,” Pieper said.
At Ivanhoe, there were several trees that had been uprooted and cut down and there were no benches near the playground for parents to sit on. Board member Jacqueline Lumsden said a shelter house had been taken down where a cement pad sits in the center of the park. The group said it would be nice to have that shelter rebuilt.
Additional items in Ivanhoe included removing some of the bleachers at the ball field and taking down the concession stand.
There were several maintenance items on the restroom including replacing the doors. The group also said putting new updated basketball hoops on the court on the northwest side, and then having someone touch up graffiti in the skate park would be nice additions.
Shopton recommendations included putting some black screens along the east side fencing to hide some of the rundown structures on the other side. Some small repair to fences around the Featheringill ballfield and possibly adding a few additional playground features for very young children.
At Victory Park, heavy focus was put on the former tennis courts that have wrinkled surfaces. Pieper said the city could look at converting or adding pickleball courts to the surface.
Lumsden, who lives in the neighborhood of the park, said she’d like to see at least one tennis court kept on the property. Pieper said there are 10 courts in town and pickleball is gaining in popularity. The subsurface is cracked and patched and the group thought the whole surface and concrete underneath needed to be replaced.
Other concerns were the surface of the ball field being very hard, bleachers needing replaced, either taking the concession stand down or repairing it and adding handicap parking. Lumsden said she’d like to see fencing replaced on the southside to keep balls and children from running into the street. She also said the northwest entry needed to be handicap ramped for disabled residents and bicycle riders.
Old Settlers Park has ongoing advocacy from the Old Settler’s Association but had a few minor issues that could use attention, Decker said.
Pieper said the board has a new sense of direction and short of that she was thinking of resigning from the board.
“I’ve been on this park board for a long time and almost got off it because I thought it was kind of a waste of time,” said board member Sue Pieper. “But now we have direction and this is getting to be fun.”
Decker said some in community have questioned the need for the board
“Everyone was bringing up the fact that what use is the park board if we don’t have a say so or know what’s going on. And people would go to the council with stuff when they should be going to board first,” he said.
Pieper said recent news that the board is taking a hard look at parks is generating ideas from the community.
“That’s what’s so much fun,” she said “I got so many ideas when I started asking people what they thought we needed.”
Decker said parks are key to keeping people in town with options to get outside, but also are critical in recruiting new people to town.
“When people move two things they look at first – schools and jobs – and then they look at parks.”
Vandegriff said the whole board has a renewed sense of responsibility and direction.
“I think our goal is really to help establish that vision for five years and then we can really say, ‘Here’s the plan.” And then as a board we drive against the plan. And I think that’s what the mayor is asking for,” Vandegriff said.
“If you don’t have a vision, you’re not going to go anywhere.”
Editor’s Note: Watch for a poll in the Pen City Current in the coming days asking for input about Fort Madison City Parks.