Citizens want more open space in city

A survey mailed to all Oak Harbor utility customers last September painted a clearer picture of the collective community wants as city staff updates its Parks and Recreation Plan.

The existing plan was last updated in 2001 and state law requires updates every six years for cities to remain eligible for parks and recreation grants. Steve Powers, city development services director, told the Oak Harbor Planning Commission Tuesday night that 550 of the 5,000 total surveys were returned.

“This was primarily to measure the needs of the community,” he said. “I think it has provided us invaluable information.”

The survey was designed to obtain feedback about the location, quality and quantity of city parks, as well as to gauge seasonal activity level, frequency of use, popular recreation activities, and support for improving parks.

Powers said the survey revealed that hiking, walking and jogging are the most popular recreational activities, which he felt was logical given the city’s interest in fitness. He added that the public generally uses parks based on location and availability, not the provider of the facility, whether it be city, county or Navy.

“This speaks to the location and quantity of existing parks and the need to continue this level of service,” Powers said.

Those completing the surveys were satisfied overall with the location of parks, but bemoaned a lack of trails and natural open spaces. Residents also felt the city needs more indoor facilities.

When it came to funding, 46 percent of the stakeholders supported property tax increases or usage fees as means to raise park dollars.

More than 60 percent of the responses came from females and more than 60 percent were the heads of households. And a majority of the households were made up of people in the 35 to 65 age group.

The community’s desire for more open spaces coincided with city plans to add the category to parks and recreation. Until now, open spaces have been dealt with separately.

“We’ve been working on trying to meld those two things together,” Powers said. “Many communities have already done that.”

Cac Kamak, city senior planner, has been working on the parks document update, which Powers said has been structured to easily allow the city to determine if long and mid-range goals, as well as short-term plans, are being met.

The city’s Parks Board and a focus group made up of representatives from neighboring agencies have also been instrumental in the endeavor.

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