With the year more than half over, the Washington Parks Department is working to complete several goals outlined for the year.
Darren Dunkle, parks director, talked with The Missourian on how the parks department is accomplishing its goals and what’s planned for the next several months.
Earlier this summer, the city participated in the America in Bloom program. One of the department’s goals was not only to participate, but to receive a five-bloom rating.
The city won’t know the results until later in the fall.
Another goal was to participate in the Community Wildlife Habitat program. Dunkle and the parks staff have worked to gain the “certified wildlife habitat site” designation for several of the city’s parks, including Hillermann Park, Lakeview Park, Burger Park, Optimist Park, Phoenix Park and the Rennick Riverfront Park.
To earn the designation, the park must be suitable for wildlife habitat, with trees and bushes for nesting, vegetation for food, water on site and other qualifications.
“The certification shows that we’re meeting national standards and requirements,” said Dunkle, adding the designation will help with grant opportunities.
“It benefits the community in that we are giving opportunities for wildlife to continue to thrive and creating habitats for that,” he said.
The parks staff also has been working on several components for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Several plans are being created or updated, such as an integrated past management plan, natural and environmental management plan, as well as plans for water usage, stormwater runoff and filtering of water.
The program is voluntary now, but Dunkle said that over the next few years, he expects the guidelines to be mandatory and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“What we’re trying to do is get ahead of it,” he explained. “They’re good operating practices to begin with.”
The program calls for reduction of mowing and replacing turf grass with native plants that are more heat tolerant and take less water.
Earlier this month, Dunkle started working on a grant being offered through the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Community Stewardship program. The grant, if secured, would be used for Phoenix Park.
“The main purpose of the grant is to start introducing native plants into your parks system, especially in aquatic areas,” he said.
The department also is exploring another grant application through the MDC’s tree resource improvement and maintenance program and through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources land and water conservation fund.
Additionally, the parks department is working to revamp the adopt-a-park program.
Another major goal is working toward becoming nationally accredited through the Commission for the Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.
National accreditation is a three- to five-year process, Dunkle said, noting that he has gone through the process once before with the city of Chesterfield.
There are 144 recognized standards in 10 categories and a majority of those must be met. Dunkle said he began working on the accreditation process when he first started working for the department and is about 20 percent complete with the steps to become accredited.
Only four cities in the state are accredited and only about 100 are accredited nationwide.
Dunkle said that accreditation, although “daunting,” is worthwhile because it shows strengths and deficiencies and requires creating policies and extensive documentation.
In December, the parks department will apply to receive the Tree City designation for the eighth year in a row.
The department also is continuing to look into the Playful City USA designation.
Dunkle said a comprehensive parks and recreation master plan was adopted earlier this year and staff will work to create a strategic action plan to accomplish those tasks.
He expects to begin implementing the plan in September and it could take up to a year to complete.
Staff and the parks commission also are working to develop several plans to include with the action plan, such as a facility and land use management plan, design development standards and guidelines, refurbishment and renovations investment plan, capital improvement plan, maintenance investment plan, recreation programming plan, communications and marketing plan, fees and charges, safety and security, risk management and will update several other plans.
Several parks projects have been completed, including the skate park, resurfacing of the leisure pool and installation of the splash playground at the city pool.
The Highway 100 enhancements are nearly complete, Dunkle said.
The parks department soon will go out to bid and complete the development of the All-Abilities Playground.
Two other project goals are to continue landscape beautification projects within the parks system and work toward resurfacing the fairgrounds tennis courts at Hillermann Park.