By any account, the Washington Parks Department had a very busy year.
With large-scale projects like the concert stage and events center at the fairgrounds, Angel of Hope Memorial Garden, the skate park, all-abilities playground and others, there was no shortage of work to be done.
Overall though, Darren Dunkle, parks director, said the year went well.
“I think we made great strides this last year,” he said. “This wasn’t a typical year in the parks and recreation world.”
Singling out the biggest accomplishment, Dunkle said, is a difficult task, as so many projects and behind the scenes work were going on simultaneously.
Although the parks master plan has not yet been adopted, Dunkle said he would consider it one of the biggest accomplishments of the year.
“That document not only takes a look back at where we’ve been, it looks at where we’re at and gives us a guide to where we’re going,” he said. “I think that is probably the most important thing we’ve worked on this year.”
The document is about 98 percent completed, Dunkle said, adding that the parks department is waiting for the city of Washington to finalize its comprehensive plan before adopting the parks master plan.
The city’s plan hits on some of the same topics as the park’s plan, he said.
Dunkle said several user groups and individuals were interviewed during the process of creating the plan.
“I feel really good about it,” he said. “I think it’s something that was very-much needed since the last master plan was completed in 1990.”
Dunkle said he would like to continue to review the plan annually and revise it every five years and create a new one about every 10 years.
In 2012, the concert stage and events center was built and the Phoenix Park tennis courts were completed.
Earlier this month, the first candlelight vigil was held at the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden.
Work is continuing on the skate park and Jaycees All-Abilities Park.
In January, Dunkle said the department plans to go out to bid for the first phase of construction for the all-abilities park. The project began this past spring.
“Working with the Jaycees on this project has gone very well,” he said. “I know they put a lot of time and effort into it.”
Work at the skate park has taken longer than anticipated, but is going well, Dunkle said.
“When you have as many projects as we’ve had going on, and trying to coordinate and use some of the same in-house staff to do some of these projects, it has taken a little bit longer than originally anticipated,” he said.
The skate park project is scheduled to be completed by the end of February and should open in spring 2013.
Several playgrounds were resurfaced in 2012, including the Main Park, Burger Park, Lions Lake and Tiemann Drive playgrounds. The Lions Lake gazebo also was completed.
To comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, several updates were made at the Agnes Nolting Aquatics Complex this past year.
The parks department is continuing to work on improvements at the city pool, including exploring the possibility of converting the wading pool into a splash playground and resurfacing the leisure pool.
Pool operations went well this year, Dunkle said.
“Daily operations of the pool went more smoothly,” he said, adding that there was increased oversight by his department this summer.
A pool management contract recently was approved by city council.
The parks department also helped with landscaping at the library and city hall this past year.
This year, the Washington Parks Department received special recognition in several areas.
For the seventh year in a row, Washington earned the “Tree City USA” designation.
Washington also participated in the America in Bloom competition and received a four bloom rating, which was higher than 2011 when Washington earned a three bloom rating.
In administration, many plans and standards were created or updated.
The department developed a comprehensive plan; park maintenance standards; tree, beautification and turf management plans; an integrated pest management plan; an American with Disabilities Act transition plan; and a prescribed burn plan.
Facility rules and regulations also were updated and rules and regulations were created for special event use, Phoenix Park Tennis Courts and the concert stage and events center.
There may not be any way to top 2012 in terms of projects, but the new year will still be an ambitious one for the parks department.
In 2013, Dunkle has a long list of awards and designations he will work toward achieving, including the Tree City USA designation and again participating in the America in Bloom competition.
The director also hopes to participate in and receive the Playful City USA designation and the National Wildlife Foundations “Community Wildlife Habitat Program.” The department also will work toward becoming certified as a community wildlife habitat.
“I believe the majority of our parks would qualify (for the designation),” Dunkle said.
Another goal is to participate in the Audubon International “Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program” and work toward becoming a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
Dunkle also plans to apply for several grants to benefit the parks system.
All of the grants, designations and awards, Dunkle said, are pieces to a bigger puzzle.
“They all come together to meet national standards (that say) we’re operating properly, that we’re being efficient and effective, that we’re reducing costs, which helps us go for grants,” he said.
Long-term, Dunkle said he will continue to work toward the requirements necessary for the department to become nationally accredited. However, that goal won’t be completed in 2013.
“National accreditation shows that you’ve met all national standards . . . that you’re doing things the right way,” he said, adding that the process is a good one to go through.
The process will help formalize plans and procedures, he noted, as well as give the department new ideas to implement.
Right now, there are only four accredited departments in the state of Missouri.
Many administration goals have been set for 2013.
At the top of the list is to adopt the comprehensive parks and recreations master plan.
Dunkle said he also hopes to develop a strategic action plan to carry out recommendations and findings of the plan.
Many plans are to be developed, including a facility and land use management plan; design development standards and guidelines; a refurbishment and renovations investment plan; a capital improvement plan; a communications and marketing plan; a fees and charges plan, safety and security plan; and a risk management plan.
Updates also will be made to the forestry management plan and the Adopt-A-Park program.