Fayetteville has begun renovations on Wilson Park, and city officials say the remodel is long overdue.
One of Fayetteville’s oldest and most popular outdoor recreation areas, Wilson Park is replacing playground equipment that was at least 20 years old, according to the city.
“The equipment looks OK from a distance but if you get closer you see that it is very worn,” said Ken Eastin, park planner. “It’s a long-awaited, much-needed improvement.”
The more than $500,000 project was funded in part by a $150,000 matching grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s Outdoor Recreation Grants Program. Program Director John Beneke said a large number of requests to his office indicate Fayetteville is not alone in its need for money to refurbish parks and also to build new ones.
“The need statewide is demonstrated by approximately twice as much funding requested than that which is available,” he said.
As parks grant maker for the state, Beneke leads the administration of two types of funding for cities and counties, matching grants and FUN Park Grants. Both are competitive awards and are limited by the amount of state and federal funds available each year.
Reimbursable matching grants of up to $250,000 are available to pay for direct costs to develop public outdoor recreation facilities, including the acquisition of land to build parks. The money can also be used to “replace obsolete facilities, such as that in Fayetteville,” Beneke said.
FUN Park Grants, intended for “fundamentally underserved neighborhoods,” are available to incorporated municipalities with a population of 2,500 or less and to unincorporated communities that are sponsored by the county in which they are located. Up to 10 of the $45,000 grants are awarded each year to provide basic recreation facilities such as playgrounds, pavilions and basketball courts, Beneke said.
The state issued $1.3 million in FUN Park Grants in 2015, 2016 and 2017. It gave out 18 matching grants totaling $1.7 million in 2015, 26 grants totaling $2.2 million in 2016 and 28 grants totaling $2.6 million in 2017.
Changes at Wilson Park will include replacing the park’s two playgrounds – one for younger children, ages 2 to 5, and one for older children, ages 5 to 12 – with one more compact play area, still separated by age.
ACS Playground Adventures out of Oklahoma City is the contractor for the project, whose plans include a new, musical playground with freestanding, musically-tuned percussion instruments, including a “Grandioso Chime,” “Vivo Metallaphone,” and “Animoto Metallaphone,” in addition to a variety of drums, including a kettle drum, kundu drum and goblet drum, according to the city.
The musical play area is part of a nationwide playground trend that focuses on exploring visual, tactile and social play that goes beyond the climbing, swinging and sliding of typical playgrounds, according to the NRPA.
Fadil Bayyari, CEO of Bayyari Properties & Construction, announced in July a $30,000 donation toward the construction of a musical playground at Wilson Park. In honor of his late son, the area will be called the David Lyle Bayyari Musical Park.
Aside from the playground additions, Eastin said the city is investing an additional $102,000 in infrastructure work that needs to be done at the park. The entry drive from Prospect Street will be reconstructed, and there will also be added designated striped parking spaces and the addition of curb and gutter to redirect storm water. Eastin said the gutter system is aimed toward improving some erosion issues, and designated parking spots will make visiting the park “a little less hectic on a nice sunny Saturday.”
TNT Inc. is under contract with the city for the project. The city expects the park to be completed in mid-to-late May.
MAINTENANCE A PARKS CONCERN NATIONWIDE
Attendance in U.S. state parks has been on the rise the last few years, according to a study from North Carolina State University and the National Association of State Park Directors, which projected 740 million people will visit state parks this year, but funding has been slow to bounce back after the Great Recession.
Operating expenditures total about $2.5 billion and less than half of that comes from state general funds, according to 2014 statistics from the National Association of Park Directors. Meanwhile, parks operators are struggling to ensure they have up-to-date, working equipment.
Facility maintenance has been one of the top concerns for public parks operators nationwide for several years, according to the Recreation Management magazine. More than half (56%) of respondents in the publication’s 2016 State of the Industry report named facility and equipment upkeep as one of the top issues park operators face. Staffing, increasing participation, safety and creating new programming all fell behind the facility maintenance issue, according to the magazine.
Local and regional parks generate billions in economic activity each year and account for about 1 million jobs in the United States, according to the latest National Recreation and Park Association economic report, based on 2013 numbers.