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What's happening at Fort Wayne parks in 2023? We have updates

What's happening at Fort Wayne parks in 2023? We have updates
Pickleball has become a popular sport at local parks. There are now 36 courts in Fort Wayne. (Courtesy)

What do you love about Fort Wayne's parks, and what updates or activities would you like to see in the future?

From now until mid-March, Fort Wayne's Parks & Recreation Department is conducting its 5-Year Master Plan survey where any resident of the city can weigh in.

So what is the Master Plan, and what else is happening with parks (like riverfront) in 2023?

We sat down with Parks Director Steve McDaniel to find out.

Steve McDaniel, Director of Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation

How long have you worked in Parks & Recreation, and what’s your personal favorite thing about Fort Wayne’s parks?

SD: I have been with the department for over 30 years. My favorite thing about the Fort Wayne Parks is that we provide such a wide variety of everything; from small to large parks, from active athletic fields to nature preserves to a historic farm, from camps to arts and crafts to large festivals. There is truly something for everyone in our parks and programs.

Do you have a favorite park activity or trail you’d recommend?

SD: One park I always recommend is Lindenwood Nature Preserve. I think it is a hidden gem within our community. More than 100 acres of nature with hiking trails, a board walk, pond, and wildlife. Once inside the park, you would never know you were near Downtown Fort Wayne. There is a total of 87 parks to go explore!

Fort Wayne Parks is conducting a 5-Year Master Plan survey. What is the purpose of the Master Plan?

SD: For us, the Master Plan does a couple of things. It lives with us as a document to work on for the next five years with public input. We want to make sure that whatever we’re doing in parks is something people want to see and use. We won’t know what people’s needs are without asking. So, when residents take the survey, they’re guiding us on what we’ll do in the future.

It’s also a document we have on record with the DNR, and it opens us up to potential grant opportunities. For example, right now, we’re building a trail system in Buckner Park, and half of that project will be funded through a grant from the DNR. Without a master plan, we would not be able to get that funding, so the plan helps us leverage our dollars with state dollars to get these projects done. (Take the quick 5-10 minute survey here!)

Amenities, like basketball courts and rock-climbing walls, are mentioned in the survey as potential park features. What are some of the activities and trends you’ve seen become popular in local parks so far?

SD: Pickleball was a blip on the radar a few years ago; now, a lot more people are playing, so we see it more in our surveys. We currently have 30 outdoor courts and six indoor courts for a total of 36. Clubs like Fort Wayne Pickleball Inc. have gotten really active, too.

On the other hand, activities that were popular several decades ago, like archery, are far less popular now.

Probably every time we do a survey, the number one thing that comes back is trails. People love the trails in Fort Wayne, and we’ve already got a great system. Some trails are managed through our Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation department at the city; others are managed by the Board of Public Works at Allen County.

Together, our community has about 120 miles of trails, so increasing trail connectivity throughout our area is part of the next thing residents want to see. We want to make sure our trails are more connected to local houses, businesses, and parks.

Disc Golf is a growing sport in Fort Wayne, too. Tell us about that.

SD: We have a great partnership with the Fort Disc Golf Club. We have five courses in our parks, and it is a growing sport. It’s great because: Once you own your discs, it’s free to play.

One nine-hole course is right outside my office here in Northside Park. We have another 18-hole course at Shoaff Park, one at East Swinney and West Swinney and an 18-hole course at Tillman Park. Tillman’s course is on the national disc golf circuit. It is listed, almost as a professional course, and a couple of times each year, we have outings that bring players–even professionals—from all over the Midwest to play disc golf here.

What are some of the top developments in store for parks this year?

SD: For the past few years, we’ve been planning on improvements to Franke Park. We call it the Franke Park Renaissance Plan. Franke Park is our largest park in the city with 340 acres of land, so we’re trying to make improvements to the infrastructure and the way people move around the park.

We’ve broken it up into phases. Last year, we designed and bid on the first phase, a $20 million project to add a new entrance to the park off Goshen Road. Previously, you had to come in off Sherman, so you had to drive through the neighborhood. The new entrance will be directly off Goshen, and we’re adding a bridge over Spy Run Creek in the park. We’re also adding a state-of-the-art pavilion on the website side of the park, and a road will tie it into our existing roadway in the park.

The Franke Park Renaissance Plan.

One thing we’ve found with the masterplan is that we have a lot of people who come to the park by driving. We don’t have a lot of pedestrian traffic in the park, and that’s something we’d like to increase. So, we want to bring a trail off Goshen Road to start an internal trail system within Franke Park. That way, people can choose to go from amenity to amenity within the park by walking or biking.

We know Franke Park has a large mountain bike trail system, too, so people are already bringing their bikes in. With the new trail system, we’re hoping people from the neighborhood can walk or bike in instead of driving.

That’s our biggest project currently. We’re also part of riverfront Phase 2.

What’s next for riverfront?

SD: With riverfront Phase 2, we’re building off what was done in Phase 1 in 2019 with the grand opening of Promenade Park. We’re adding additional access to the river and pedestrian areas along the rivers, so you have greater access to water sports and boating. People are using our rivers a lot more in recent years. We want to keep encouraging that.

We’ve already started construction a few years ago on what we’re calling Phase 2A, which is the space between Promenade Park and Headwaters Park on the south side of the river, right in front of the new Riverfront at Promenade mixed-use development.

We’ve been working with More Brewing out of Chicago to create a location there on Fourth Street as well. That’s part of the North River plan in the next phase of riverfront as we develop up to the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge and Clinton Street.

At the Riverfront at Promenade Building, specifically, we’re still working to fill out some of the commercial spaces and adjacent developments there on the north side of the building. There’s a patio on the back facing the river, too, with amenities, like a rec center and a pool. It’s going to be a cool space.

A glimpse at the park and trail space developing to connect Promenade Park with Headwaters Park. (Photo by Kara Hackett)

We were hoping to complete it last fall, but the weather changed quickly, so we’ve pushed it back to this spring. The new park space in front of the building by the river will enmesh Headwaters Park with Promenade Park and allow for greater connectivity.

So far, the current amenities at Promenade Park have been used a lot more than even we anticipated. So we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from the community, and it’s helped catalyze $90 million in investment in our Downtown, largely because of what we’re building there at Promenade Park. It changes the fabric of the way Downtown looks.

What other projects are you working on this year?

SD: Other projects we’re working on are with our local neighborhood associations and other stakeholders. For example, we’ve made master plans for Brewer Park and Packard Park in recent years, thanks to ARPA funding. Now, we’re taking those master plans and going into construction on them in 2023, starting with Brewer Park. Those projects are largely determined and led by the community.

We also have $3 million from our capital improvement budget that we put back into parks each year to maintain our greenspaces and buildings. We have 140 buildings in our parks, so each year, we’re updating roofs, windows, and doors as needed, making sure air and heating systems are running, and assisting with other needs.

Last year, one of our big projects was updating one of our park buildings, Foster Park’s Pavilion #3, which is accepting reservations for events beginning May 1. It’s one of the oldest pavilions in our parks, dating back to the 1930s. We replaced the roof, repaired and replaced some of the timbers, reworked the masonry, removed graffiti and improved the path leading to the pavilion.

(Reservations can be made by coming into the Parks office and reserving it in person.)

The updated Pavilion #3 at Foster Park. (Courtesy)

Parts of Foster Park’s entrance remain closed as construction on the underground stormwater tunnel, MamaJo continues. What’s the status of that project?

SD: The City of Fort Wayne plans to wrap up that project by 2025, and once the tunnel project is complete, we at Parks are planning to redo that whole front area of Foster Park and put in gardens and landscaping. We think it will be open to the public by 2025-2026, and it will be worth the wait because it’s making our rivers much cleaner.

One of the great things our city is proactively doing right now is making sure we clean up our rivers. This deep tunnel project is going to alleviate so much stormwater overflow into our rivers. If we can make it through the construction phase, it’s going to make a better future for us in the long run.

Speaking of Foster Park, there have been a lot of conversations about the golf course there, too. Some residents have expressed concerns about how plans to expand the golf course for its 100th year celebration might impact the park’s trail, diverting it into the woods with less visibility for trail-users. What’s the status of that redesign project?

SD: We’ve had several conversations with residents who use the trail at Foster, and we are in the process of putting together an additional survey that deals with more specific questions about the trail around Foster: How people use it, what times of day and year people use it, etc. We want to gauge more of that and how it will impact the golf course.

A proposed redesign of the Foster Park golf course and trail. This plan is still under consideration.

We’ll follow that survey up with another public meeting geared toward making sure we are hearing everyone. (The Foster Park trail survey will be posted on our website in the next week at fortwayneparks.org.)

After our last public meeting, we thought we heard from everyone, and then there were still a lot of questions. Something the public should know is: Our plan is not final yet. We’re still working on it, and in the future, we’ll have a public meeting to gauge more of that. Then, it will go back to our design team for the golf course, and we’ll tweak or rework our plan to come up with the right solution.

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