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Playground vs. Walking Trail

posted Jul 30, 2008, 8:01 AM by Brian Johnson   [ updated Aug 16, 2008, 12:38 PM ]

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been some debate surrounding the question of where we should focus our efforts.  Should we focus on a new playground, or a walking trail?

To be fair, I need to state up front that my preference is for a playground.  That said, I’m going to try to paint the picture of how we’ve come to where we are today with this project, and where we hope to be in the next couple of years.

The Highland View Park Upgrade Project stems from the fact that I have young children who love to run, climb, swing and generally act like the energy-filled little boys they are.  From time-to-time, it’s a great escape to head out to a neighborhood park where there is space and equipment that has been built to specifically meet these needs.  Unfortunately, the only park within walking distance of my house is completely outdated and does little to engage my children.

After spending way too much time complaining about the existing park and wishing that it could be bigger and better, I decided to get out of my seat and try to do something about it.  This led me to the July 10 PIAC meeting, where I simply asked the question…  How do I go about updating the playground in my neighborhood park?

Through a series of events that can only be described as “good timing”, I found myself talking with Mike Herron, the North Regional Manager for the KC Parks & Recreation division.  Mr. Herron informed me that I had asked the right question, at the right time, and in front of the right person (him).  He told me that there were funds available that he could commit to Highland View Park, suggested that I submit an official request, and urged me to get the neighborhood involved.

After speaking with Mr. Herron, I quickly put this website together and designed a simple flyer that I hoped would drive traffic to this site.  I was able to recruit a couple of our neighbors to help distribute the flyers (over 425 of them!) throughout the neighborhood, and we’ve been collecting feedback ever since.

I’ve compiled your feedback and shared it with Mr. Herron at KC Parks & Rec.  I’ve had discussions with him regarding the upgrades that each of you has requested, as well as what it might take (funds, time, effort) to make each of them a reality.  It is through these discussions that I’ve become convinced that a playground deserves our attention as the first priority.

According to Mr. Herron, the average cost of installing a new playground runs from $125,000 to $150,000.  This is compared to the (extremely) rough estimate of $300,000 - $500,000 for paved walking trail.

As I noted above, Mr. Herron has told us that there are funds available now for use in this project.  This means that we have access to slightly more than $146,000, and we do not have to go through the standard budgeting process to access these funds.  This puts us roughly 6 – 9 months ahead of the usual process.

If you compare the available funds to the two major projects (playground and walking trail), it’s easy to see that the cost of a new playground is nearly 100% covered, where the cost of a walking trail is – at best – double what we have been promised.  This means that in order to complete the walking trail project, we will need to go through the standard budgeting process, which could push such a project out by a number of months.  (This is assuming that the funds are approved by the city.)

Using the available funds to construct a new playground means that we should have a new play area within the next 12 months.  Depending on weather and various schedules, it could be even sooner!  A walking trail, on the other hand, looks to be 18 to 24 months out – at best.  (Again, this is assuming that the additional funds are approved.)

With all of the information that Mr. Herron has provided, I’ve heeded his advice and submitted a second (and separate) PIAC request to the city for the design and construction of a walking trail in Highland View Park.  The benefit of this second request is that we now have two separate projects simultaneously running through the process.  This means that if a walking trail truly is 18 to 24 months out, it will stay 18 to 24 months regardless of whether we pursue the playground project or not.

I understand the arguments on both sides of this discussion.  It’s easy for those of us with young children to see the value in a new playground.  On the other hand, everyone can directly benefit from the construction of a paved walking trail.  In both cases, however, we all benefit through a positive impact on our property values.

Knowing that my preference is for an improved playground, it’s easy for me to see the benefit in using the existing funds for the play area.  I also see the benefit in being able to complete this project by sometime next summer.  Of course, I see the benefit of a walking trail as well, but I just can’t see foregoing the “sure thing” when the reality is that we may not get approval for the additional funds needed to complete the walking trail project.  (I can assure you that I will be fighting for these funds, regardless of the direction we choose to go.)

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this.  If you think I’m off base, dead on, or something in between, let me know.  Better yet, let’s give this a whirl…  I’ve setup a discussion group using Google Groups.  Post your thoughts there so that everyone has the opportunity to further explore the topic.  (You'll need a free Google account to if you wish to post.)

Thanks again to everyone for your help in making Highland View a great place to live!