ANOTHER VOICE: A new park needs a community’s shared vision

The City of Hood River is expected to grow by 4,500 people in the next 20 years. As the city grows we need to carefully plan for our future so that Hood River becomes a stronger, healthier, and more vibrant community, not just a bigger one. Public parks have a pivotal role in enhancing quality of life. We need to provide for the future livability of Hood River by investing in parkland now.

A construction boom has already started on the west side of Hood River. New neighborhoods are popping up that will benefit greatly from a conveniently located and beautifully designed park. A large, new park will also draw people from all over the county to use its ball fields, playground and picnic shelters. There is a 20-acre parcel located at the corner of Fairview Drive and Belmont Drive that would serve both these purposes. The property is mostly flat with a double mountain view. It is connected to the Westside trail and just across from Westside School, enabling Hood River to host sports tournaments on the combined fields.

Research shows that a park that people can easily walk to — less than a half mile away — gets used much more than a park that requires a special car trip. A third of the US population does not drive, including many of the people — kids, seniors, disabled people, lower income folks — who benefit most from access to recreation facilities. Putting parks in residential neighborhoods helps create community in a way that a “drive-to only” park never will. Neighbors can connect with neighbors during morning playground sessions, afternoon pick-up games, after-dinner strolls or weekend neighborhood festivals. Interactions between people make parks more than just fields, trees and playground equipment.

Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District is Hood River’s only government agency with a dedicated source of funding for park development. With each new house, the Parks District collects a System Development Charge of nearly $3,000 to create new recreation facilities. About 85 percent of the Parks District’s $900,000 SDC fund balance is money collected from development within the city limits. SDC money should be spent to provide facilities near the people who fund them.

Unfortunately, the Parks District is going in another direction, having made an offer on a parcel zoned Light Industrial just south of the Garbage Transfer Station on Guignard Drive. The property is 1.2 miles outside the Urban Growth Boundary, in the middle of a sparsely populated industrial area on a busy state highway with heavy truck traffic and no sidewalk or bike lane in the vicinity. A park there would displace future job-producing industrial uses.

In a cash-constrained environment, government entities must make every dollar count by making investments that stand the test of time. Will “the park by the dump” be a legacy project like Jackson Park or the Waterfront Park? Will it be a place that our grandchildren thank us for?

The per-acre asking price of the Guignard and Fairview properties is nearly identical. Guignard is cheaper because it is only eight acres, while Fairview is 20 acres. When making a long-term investment, the community needs to consider value, not just price.

We thank the Parks District for working hard to find suitable park sites. We know it’s getting harder and more expensive all the time. But the park by the dump isn’t the right choice for Hood River. Working together, our community can do better.

The Waterfront Community Park has been such a shining success that it’s hard to remember how it got started. In the beginning, it wasn’t a Port project or a city government project, but the brainchild of ordinary people with a big dream of a beautiful park by the water. Fairview Park has the same sort of citizen-driven beginning.

To gauge public opinion on a potential Fairview Park, we posted a survey online Nearly 300 people have completed the survey so far. We also commissioned a concept site plan as a starting point for a community conversation about the kinds of park facilities we need. The design shows sports fields, walking trails, natural areas, a playground, picnic shelters, restrooms, community gardens and a dog park. But the best design for our community will emerge when all the stakeholders — the Parks District, neighbors, youth and adult sports leagues, city and county government, the school district — work together toward a shared vision. We are hosting a community meeting this Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the Hood River Library.

Heather Staten is executive director and Polly Wood is the president of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, whose mission is to protect Hood River’s farms, forests, special wild places and the livability of its cities.

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