Residents of neighborhoods throughout Chattanooga may have noticed recent changes to their local parks such as new benches, playgrounds and barbecue grills, a result of $500,000 in funds freed up through "lean operations" and "one-time staff vacancies," according to a news release.
New playgrounds were added at about a half-dozen parks including Francis B. Wyatt park in North Chattanooga and Harris-Johnson Park on the Southside. Another new playground is under construction at Ted Bryant Park on East 10th Street and could be complete as soon as this week, according to Brian Smith, director of marketing and communication for the city's Parks and Outdoors Department.
A change to one neighborhood park turned out to be unwelcome to some users, and now the city is holding a Park Spark event to gather feedback before proceeding with further changes.
Several neighbors have expressed concern about the removal of a portion of the chain link fence that has enclosed Riverview Park for decades. They say the fencing prevents young children from running into traffic and expressed confusion about why the fencing was removed without any notice.
Jenny Hill, who represents the area on the City Council, said by text message that constituents have reached out to her with concerns about the fence removal.
Anyone interested in giving their feedback about Riverview Park changes or the city's master parks plan may attend the Park Spark event from 3-6 p.m. Friday at Riverview Park.
Similar events have been held at nearly a dozen parks in different areas of the city, such as Avondale and Eastdale, to engage the public over the past several months as part of the six-month period of public input for the city's new master parks plan, Smith said in a phone interview.
Along with giving communities a chance to gather and participate in family-friendly activities, the events are also an opportunity for park officials to ask members of the community about improvements they want to see in their parks and events they would like to attend, such as concerts or movie nights.
"It's just kind of getting into the neighborhood and talking to the people that utilize the park the most," Smith said.
When former New York City parks commissioner Mitchell Silver visited the city last week, he offered some ideas as to how to open up some of Chattanooga's parks and take down existing fencing where applicable, Smith said.
In the case of Riverview Park, Smith said there is an opportunity to redesign the fence or use landscaping as a barrier instead of fencing to improve the park's appearance.
"It's one of our oldest parks, and the chain link fence that was there could use a little maintenance, so now we're looking at a better way to put up a barrier," Smith said, adding that potential redesigns could include a rope-type fence or the addition of benches on the inside and outside of the park.
"We know that's a high-traffic area, and we want to make sure ... everyone that visits the park is safe, but there may be more aesthetically pleasing ways that we can design that. We want the public to give us some ideas, and then maybe we can come back with a plan here soon and put something up that the neighborhood will really enjoy."
The public has until Friday to submit responses to the city's second online parks survey, which Smith said is a deeper dive into the topics people brought up in the first online survey and in public meetings that began this summer.
Officials were "pleasantly surprised" that 70% of respondents to the first survey said they love their parks, he said. More connectivity between parks is something many said they wanted in the form of greenways and protected natural areas, and people also expressed a desire for more outdoor programming at parks and community centers.
The second survey attempts to gather more detailed information on that previous feedback, such as how people want to get to their parks and how the city can provide more connectivity to parks while maintaining safety.
The No. 1 request received through the survey was for a botanical garden, Smith said.
"As far as creating a full-fledged botanical garden like Atlanta or Huntsville, we're not there yet, but you never know," Smith said, when asked if the city is considering the addition of a botanical garden.
The Parks Department will compile all the data from the surveys and public meetings and will present a plan to the City Council and for the mayor's approval in the spring, he said.
To learn more about the plan or to sign up for the Parks and Outdoors Department newsletter, visit chattanoogaparksandoutdoorsplan.com or contact Smith at email@example.com.