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2013-04-11

City park features run from upscale to simple

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

With the recent rise in interest in improving Bandera's City Park, I thought it might be fun to visit a few city parks in Texas just to see what some of the options might be. City Councilman Brandi Morgan has been researching park improvements for a couple of years now. She has recently received offers of assistance from a citizen's committee appointed by Mayor Don Clark. Also offering ideas was a member of the long presumed defunct Friends of the Park.

Visits to several city parks demonstrated that parks can offer a wide variety of activities and services to patrons. None of the parks I visited charged a fee for using the parks. There were fees for facilities like pavilions if the users wanted to reserve the site for their exclusive use.

Parks included relatively expensive features, such as a gigantic fort playground at one location, to the relatively inexpensive, such as a giant dead tree transformed into a climbing feature.

The most successful parks, in my opinion, had spaces that appeal to a range of ages, abilities and activities.

Adequate parking, good restroom facilities, broad safe paths, and shade attract people to parks. Seating is also a key feature that helps make people feel comfortable in a park. Moms with babies, elderly people, joggers needing a break - all enjoy having a place to sit.

Some parks had nicely planted entrances, with flowering shrubs and annuals ready to bloom. In the greater expanse of the parks, however, landscaping appeared to be limited to regular mowing - no flower beds to maintain.

One park had intriguing pieces of durable metal art installed in the parking area.

Municipal parks are often used as sites for historic structures that have been moved into the area and preserved. Armstrong Park in Duncanville includes an old gazebo bandstand, a stone beehive icehouse, a one-room school, and one of the city's first fire hydrants. The history of each is told on permanent signage placed nearby.

Trails and paths are well used features in most city parks. The key to increased usage seems to be making the paths wide enough for traffic to go both ways. Several parks I visited had paths made of different materials. Some were just cleared trails through wooded areas for nature walks or cross country jogging. Others were paved to allow for skaters, skate boarders and bikers. Many trails had seating along the way for users to take a break.

One park had fitness activity signs placed along the trail. Many trails had convenient distance markers.

The most popular parks had large swaths of mowed grass that encouraged pick-up soccer and touch football games, Frisbee tossing, picnicking and taking a nap!

Furnishings in some parks were memorials of various kinds. Benches were inscribed with the names of loved ones, mile markers honored persons or organizations, bricks in walkways were marked for remembrance.
I liked the layout of one park that scattered grills and tables and small playgrounds throughout the park, instead of separating them. Mom and dad could fix the hotdogs while the children played nearby.

The main feature in most parks was a playground for children of various ages. In some, the playground equipment was new and state of the art, in others it was well aged, but well cared for. Sometimes recycled materials were put to use for kids to climb over or through, such as concrete culverts and huge tires. Logs and large stones also provided places for kids to explore, rest, or pretend to be Queen of the Mountain.

My favorite kid-friendly item was an old fallen tree in Gatzendaner Park in Waxahachie. It's bark has been worn smooth by years of climbing children. An artist with a chain saw carved a squirrel and a raccoon into the wood. Both creatures appeared to be popular faces in family photos.

Pictured: Photos by Carolyn B. Edwards
This friendly raccoon carved into a fallen tree shows up in lots of pictures of tree climbing children.

This simple theater constructed of concrete block includes metal seating for about 150 people. The theater honors the memory of two slain city police officers.

Hiking trail mile markers can be simple or elaborate. This one was apparently paid for by a local sponsoring business. The back is a memorial.

Many municipal parks become sites for historic structures like this old icehouse.

Park users appreciate convenient and comfortable seating, to rest, to keep an eye on the kids, or to feed the baby.

Wide paths paved in a variety of materials allow for use by a variety of people doing a variety of activities.

Photos by Carolyn B. Edwards
Hiking trails can include special features, like this recycled bridge.