Thursday April 06, 2017
Ten parks and twelve natural areas located within the city limits combine to tally more than 536 acres for South Burlington residents to explore and enjoy. While increased activity outdoors goes a long way toward fostering health and wellness, with it comes the need for maintenance and upgrades; ½ cent from the Open Space Fund is making this possible. At the April 4 city council meeting, Director of Recreation and Parks Maggie Leugers gave a presentation on department participation and programming and took the opportunity to highlight the city’s gems.
The city’s Open Space Fund, which tacks a penny onto the tax rate each year, was historically used to preserve open spaces, but in a March 2015 vote, residents agreed to re-allocate ½ cent toward maintenance and upgrades of existing parks and natural areas. After this measure was approved, an open spaces task force was developed to determine how to prioritize the $1.3 million that would be generated over ten years (but which is available right now with a loan taken out by the city). The group’s work got underway in May 2016. In November they presented their priorities to the council, which were unanimously approved, and now some projects have been completed and many more are underway.
Leugers presented a document outlining all 48 projects and their timelines for completion between July 2016 and June 2019. Of the projects, all have had work scheduled, nine projects are underway, and one comprehensive project has been completed. This project involved bridge replacement and removal at Wheeler Nature Park. The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) has continued to be actively involved in these projects which saves the city money; to date the VYCC has saved the city $24,000 over two years and their work has included re-routing trails, improving signage and drainage, trimming corridors, and construction of boardwalks and stone steps.
During the priority development process, Wheeler Nature Park, Red Rocks Park, and the Underwood property were all identified as areas requiring attention. In addition, some of the committee’s guiding principles included making the parks more accessible, visible, and welcoming, ensuring ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, improving signage, and meeting deferred needs in existing parks.
This summer, residents will see their half cent at work as Red Rocks priorities become the primary focus. Ongoing priorities at Red Rocks were identified in a comprehensive management plan study conducted in 2014 and included addressing trail erosion, water bars, and invasive plant management as well as increasing way finding, beach accessibility, and parking and traffic management.
The funding concept for these projects germinated in April of 2015, after the council heard committee reports on the city’s open spaces and their corresponding remediation plans. The one-half cent idea was proposed by Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard. The city could borrow $1.3 million at current rates, then over a period of ten years, have the annual cost of the loan funded by the one-half cent at no additional cost to taxpayers. To date, only $36,000 has been spent, allowing for plenty of flexibility as summer projects move forward.
The task force was made up of individuals with a long standing interest and experience with South Burlington’s natural spaces including residents Lisa Yankowski, Betty Milizia,and Sean Devine of the natural resources committee, Rebecca Poquette and Glenn Sproul of the recreation and parks committee, and “at large” members Larry Kupferman and Sophie Quest. Staff support was provided by Maggie Leugers and Travis Ladd, while financial consulting services were provided by Greg Goyette of Stantec.
Keep your eyes open this summer for improvements to your favorite parks.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent