Maureen Coppotelli walks on the trail at Phoenix Park

Maureen Coppotelli, center, walks her dogs, Riley, left, and Bosco, along a trail at Phoenix Park Nov. 11 in Washington. The Washington Parks and Recreation Commission voted Wednesday to recommend that the city council rename the trail at the park after former mayor Richard F. Stratman.  

Walkers in Phoenix Park may soon be able to take a stroll on the Richard F. Stratman Trail — or at least that’s the hope of the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission. 

The commission voted unanimously to recommend the Washington City Council name the nearly 1-mile walking trail after the former Washington mayor, who served from 2002 to 2010. Signs would be installed around the trail noting its naming, if approved by the city council.

Naming the trail after Stratman came at the request of Joe Vernaci, who initially asked the commission to rename the entire park after Stratman. The commission voted down that proposal, citing the precedent in not renaming tennis courts after the late Jim Pounds and other civic leaders who have contributed to the Washington’s development. 

“We actually talked about not putting the (Agnes) Nolting name back on the pool,” said Gavin Woolley, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission. Woolley and other members said they believed the more appropriate way to honor civic leaders is through the city’s Hall of Fame.

“People who have given to Washington, who have gone above and beyond in their service to Washington, should be included in the Hall of Fame,” said Tessie Steffens, the commission’s chair. 

The Hall of Fame is divided into six categories, including the Stephen J. Reust Excellence in Soccer Award, the James E. Pounds Excellence in Tennis Award, the Agnes Nolting Excellence in Aquatics Award, the Dutch Borcherding Excellence in Baseball and Softball Award, the Bill F. Tobben and Paul G. Zoellner Excellence in Football Award; the William C. Huber Excellence in Community Service and Conservation and Ecology Award. 

Among those inducted into the Hall of Fame are: Jim Dean, soccer, inducted in 2004; Jim A. Thomas, baseball, inducted in 2004; Don Schneider, baseball, inducted in 2009; Lester Eckelkamp, baseball, inducted in 2009; Mike Newbanks, football, inducted in 2006; Jackie Miller, community service and ecology, inducted in 2020; and Anita and Lloyd Jaeger, community service and ecology, inducted in 2020. No one has been inducted into the hall of fame for aquatics or tennis.  

“The park was a gift from my company to the city of Washington at the request of Dick Stratman,” Vernaci said. “Without his request, you’d have no park out there. That’s a fact.”

Vernaci is the manager of the Phoenix Center II Development Corp. LLC. 

The Phoenix Center shopping centers have become Washington’s biggest retail centers with stores like Kohl’s, Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods and soon-to-be Aldi calling the shopping center home. 

“Establishing a city park on the east side of town was a priority of Mayor Stratman and the subject was discussed on many occasions in my meetings with him,” Joseph Vernaci wrote in a letter to the parks commission.

The park, which officially opened in 2012, is the third-largest park in the city’s park system. Only the Miller-Post Nature Reserve, a 67-acre park, and the Busch Creek Disc Golf Course, a 30-acre park, are bigger. 

The Phoenix Park features the aforementioned walking trail, a 50-foot bridge at the northern area of the park and an 85-foot bridge crossing a creek that runs through the park. There are also tennis and pickleball courts, six ponds in the park and more than 100 trees that were planted prior to the park’s opening. The city is planning to construct a new playground in the park, which will include seven slides of varying lengths, a rock climbing wall, a merry-go-round, rope walls and more. The playground will likely be installed sometime in 2022, according to city officials. 

Although Vernaci said he is “pleased” by the decision to recognize Stratman’s contributions, he said, “Anything is better than the recognition he has now, which is nothing.”

Third Ward Councilman Jeff Patke, who is a liaison between the council and the Parks Commission, said he believes his colleagues will be receptive to naming the trail after Stratman. 

“The city council takes the recommendations of the Parks Board under strong advisement,” Patke said. He said he hopes the discussion about renaming the park and trail will spark new enthusiasm and nominations for the city’s Hall of Fame. 

“If someone meant a lot to Washington, then I’d encourage anyone who knew them well to take the time to submit the paperwork for their nomination,” Patke said. “The city council doesn’t seek out people for the Hall of Fame. We rely on the people in the community to make the nomination.”

Those interested in making a nomination to the Hall of Fame should send a nominating letter to Washington City Hall, 405 Lafayette St.