Iolans were given a glimpse Thursday at how the city’s parks system could be enhanced.
Thursday’s Vision Iola meeting led a group of 15 on a tour aboard the Iola Area Chamber of Commerce’s Molly Trolley to the city’s parks.
Starting and concluding at Riverside Park, Thursday’s tour included stops at Meadowbrook and Cofa-chique parks as well as the city’s lesser-used parks, East Iola Park and Walnut Park. The group also looked over vacated land in Davis Addition being converted to athletic fields and in areas near the intersection of Irwin and Chestnut Streets and along South Washington Avenue.
The tour was led by Holly Parks and Carisa McMullen of Landworks Studio. The Olathe-based firm is assisting the city and Thrive Allen County in the Vision Iola process, which is looking at parks and trails, including sidewalks; ways to improve Iola’s downtown business district; and enhancing the city’s signage and community identity.
Landworks is assisting the city and Thrive Allen County in the Vision Iola process.
Powers pointed to results from an online survey, in which more than 80 percent of the 44 who participated said the city needs a dog park and better fishing access somewhere in the city, either at Elm Creek or the Neosho River.
A majority also said that while they were satisfied with the facilities at Riverside Park, it could be accentuated with more walking trails. More than 60 percent also said the city would be better served if another park was added along the city property near Iola’s eastern city limits — somewhere near Eisenhower Drive — where many residents must travel across town to the nearest park.
Smaller pockets of support were voiced for such things as a spray park or an indoor pool, Powers said.
As for trails, a vast majority of those surveyed indicated they would allow their children to walk to school if the city had better sidewalks and trails. David Toland, Thrive’s executive director, said the city could apply for grant funds to enhance its sidewalks through a Safe Routes to School program.
POWERS and McMullen gave suggestions at how the other parks could be improved.
Meadowbrook Park along North Cottonwood Street could use windscreens around the tennis courts, which soon will be converted to pickleball courts, and a full-court basketball court could be installed. A walking trail also was favored in the online survey, Powers said.
“We’d suggest seeing more active activities at Meadowbrook instead of passive ones,” Powers said; for example, playing basketball instead of watching birds.
Cofachique Park is the city’s second most-used park, yet it has playground equipment that rarely is touched. Rather, the park along North State Street is used primarily by folks looking for a picnic area for lunch. A majority who stop by Cofachique rarely get out of their cars, Powers said.
The park’s development would likely coincide with the city’s hopes to extend the Prairie Spirit Trail to Riverside Park.
The city might want to look into adding water, sewer and electric service to the park, Powers said.
East Iola Park, at the intersection of Fourth and Vine Streets, has a few pieces of outdated playground equipment.
Powers said the park could be improved with a natural playground: miniature natural landscapes that rely partly on the user’s imagination for different activities.
Concrete tubes or a stack of boulders, for example, could be used as a makeshift fort for a game of cops and robbers, or as suitable shelter for a small club.
Native grasses could be grown to create a natural maze, Powers suggested, or an elevated berm could become a hypothetical mountain to climb.
Natural playground materials are ideal because of their cost — roughly 40 percent of traditional playground equipment, such as slides, swings and teeter-totters.
Walnut Park, near the northernmost point of Walnut Street would likely be more suitable for passive activities, particularly because of its close proximity to Highland Cemetery. Benches could be added along with bird feeders. A nearby drainage ditch could be converted to a rain garden.
Rain gardens feature grasses, flowers or other natural landscapes that would help improve the water drainage and reduce the amount of areas that needed to be mowed, Powers said.
“Put a rain garden down there, then you won’t have to worry about it,” Powers said.
EMPTY LOTS along South Washington and elsewhere where homes were destroyed in the 2007 flood provide other opportunities for the city.
David Toland, Thrive’s executive director, said the empty area near Irwin and Chestnut streets would probably be the best location for a dog park because the nearest houses are several blocks away.
Likewise the area on South Washington, originally considered for a dog park, could instead become a campground area with fishing access to nearby Elm Creek.
The tour stop along South Washington coincided with a mowing project on the empty lot. As Toland and McMullen spoke, John Lord, a city employee being paid $45 an hour to mow the empty lots, rode by on his tractor.
Iola is limited in how it can develop the land because it remains in the flood zone, but if the areas needed to be mowed can be reduced, it could potentially save taxpayers money, Toland said.
Powers and McMullen will meet again at Riverside Park June 10 for a final recommendation on potential park improvements.