A map of Soldotna’s parks, trails, river boardwalks and bike paths was pinned onto a bulletin board. To its right, a similar aerial photograph displayed Soldotna 30 years ago; it lacked many of the other’s features.
Soldotna resident Dawni Giuger examined the maps with a friend, pointing at unfamiliar trails.
“I’d like more trails that allow dogs,” she said. “That’s a big deal. I think people feel safer when they have an animal with them. It’s pretty limited with what’s available.”
The City of Soldotna invited residents to an open house Thursday at the city’s council chambers to discuss the future of trails and recreation. It hired a planning consultant to write a Soldotna Parks and Trails Master Plan, which will shape recreational opportunities in the area for the next 20 years. The public is encouraged to offer input for a month then the consultant will move onto the next phase of planning.
The open house offered Soldotna residents a chance to view the history of the city’s trails and discuss ideas with stakeholders. They also were asked to complete a recreation survey.
“We want to hear from them about what they like and what they don’t like. Is there a sector of the public that is underserved? We’ll also look at emerging trends like new sports or activities growing in popularity,” said Nancy Casey of Casey Planning & Design, a landscape architecture company on the Kenai Peninsula.
The consultant is shaping the rough draft of the master plan based on recommendations highlighted in the “Envision Soldotna 2030” comprehensive plan, which states, “Parks, campgrounds, green space, trails and the sports center are important assets for Soldotna … Use of these resources by the community promotes the health and well-being of individuals as well as sense of community.”
The top Parks and Recreation goal in Envision 2030 is the development of a master plan, which will evaluate demand, inventory available resources and opportunities and develop a list of improvement recommendations, among other goals.
Part of the consultant’s first phase of the master plan is the inventory. It is gathering information about the current facilities and trails. The second half of the plan’s beginnings is public input.
Envision established additional goals for parks and recreation as well, such as providing missing links in the existing trail system — West Redoubt Avenue across the river to Kenai Peninsula College, Kobuk Street to Fireweed, Fred Meyer to Soldotna Creek Park, just to name a few — and considering the expansion of the Adopt-a-Park program.
All the aforementioned goals will be part of the conversation, Casey said.
“When the city and stakeholders work together, we may decide that there’s potential for expansion, and that’s all part of the public input phase,” she said.
Conducting an inventory of the trails and facilities will help the consultant compare Soldotna’s offered services to national standards. Basically, how the city enhances and maintains those services, Casey said.
The recreational use survey includes 20 questions. It asks residents how often they use areas like parks and trails, what park they believe is most important to the community and the facilities that deserve upgrades, among many other questions. It also asks for personal information, like age and income, but answers will be kept confidential. Residents can find a link to the survey at http://www.ci.soldotna.ak.us/rec_trails.html.
Colleen Denbrock, co-chair of the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission, attended Thursday’s open house. The commission is important to the master plan, as its success is based upon cooperation of multiple government entities.
She offered her own recommendations. The condition of Aspen Park, in particular, concerns her. It should be converted from a playground into a dog park. Also, Centennial Park has space for trails; a lot of visitors who come to fish use the park, and the rest of the family should have something to do, she said.
In the last ten years, the City of Soldotna has made great strides toward improving parks and overall infrastructure. Everyone seems to be working toward the same goals, Denbrock said.
“For example, Soldotna Creek Park gets lots of praise, but Memorial Park, which was such a controversial issue, turned out beautiful,” she said. “To me, that’s our star. We came to an agreement with everyone involved, and it turned out great. That was a sign of being able to get through the issues and come out with a successful project.
“Just drive through it, it is a wonderful park.”
A rough draft of the master plan is expected by April, and a second round of public input will follow its release. And the master plan will be 95 percent compete on June 11. The involved parties will definitely meet that goal, said parks and recreation director Andrew Carmichael.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.