Goal is to enhance positive features of parks
“You could put every Olmsted park in the City of Buffalo into Chestnut Ridge alone and you’d still have 200 acres left over,” Poloncarz said of the county park in Orchard Park.
The county spent $500,000 in grant and capital project money for an in-depth master plan involving four consulting firms. The consultants offered both overarching recommendations and park-specific recommendations.
Among the broader recommendations:
• Stop mowing everything. Allow many of the mowed park areas that aren’t used by park visitors to grow back out into natural areas, supporting wildlife and cutting down on labor costs.
• Protect historic structures in the heritage parks. Repair Depression-era stone park structures, buildings and shelters. The proposed 2019 capital budget earmarks $300,000 for this work.
• Help people find what already exists. Add more attractive entranceways, signs and trail markers so people can better navigate the parks, find trails and appreciate what’s in front of them. Next year’s budget proposal allocates $400,000 for this priority.
Park visitors can expect to see these three recommendations implemented over the next year or two, said Parks Commissioner Daniel Rizzo.
Some noteworthy, site-specific recommendations range from adding campground sites at Sprague Brook Park in Concord and security cameras to Times Beach Nature Preserve to restoring the historic Wendt Mansion at Wendt Beach Park in Evans, a longer-term goal that would require $2.4 million that the county would unlikely pony up itself.
Other recommendations, smaller in scale, call for restriping underused tennis courts for pickleball, enlarging or adding landscaping to parking lots, and addressing erosion along park shorelines.
Find specific recommendations for county parks near you on this interactive map (story continues):
The overall goal of the revised master plan is not to overhaul or reinvent the parks, but to enhance the positive features the parks already have, said Dean Gowen, a senior landscape architect with Amherst-based Wendel Cos. who served as project manager for the master plan update.
“We’ve got something pretty special now,” he said. “We understand that. We think the public agrees.”
As far as park administration, the plan recommends the county begin charging some permit and event fees for outside groups that want to host events on park property.
The plan also recommends cutting and removing both “low value” trees and highervalue hardwoods like cherry Legend trees and ash trees harmed by the emerald ash borer. It recommends active tree removal in about 20 locations among the county’s 13 forest lots as part of an overall forest management plan. Tree cutting would open up the canopy, encourage new trees to grow and provide some revenue to the county, according to the draft plan. It also calls for clearing trees that have sprouted in forest lots’ fire breaks.
Poloncarz and Rizzo said the priority would be clearing the fire breaks and removing trees destroyed by emerald ash borers. Any other tree cutting would be considered “down the line.” The county’s forestry lots were last logged as part of a controversial effort during the Giambra administration.
“People are like, ‘No, you should never touch your forest.’ Well, that’s not proper forest management,” Poloncarz said. “Sometimes you have to go in and take out trees to maintain other trees.”
County officials and consultants pointed to multimillion dollar investments already made in the parks in recent years, often with the help of community partners. They include new Frisbee disc golf courses, trail extensions, dog parks and ranger programs.
Some of the work ahead involves more cleanup work, he said. That includes removing old backstops from deteriorated or non-existent ball fields, repurposing unused athletic courts and taking down unsafe playground equipment. Poloncarz said he’d err on the conservative side for what needs to go.
Three hearings were scheduled for public feedback to the proposed plan. The last is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Como Lake Park casino in Lancaster.
Master plan documents can be found on the Erie County website at erie.gov/ParksPlanUpdate.