BETHLEHEM Following a nearly yearlong study, the town has finalized a new Parks and Recreation Town Master Plan.
The need for a master plan was established in 2007 with the Comprehensive Plan Oversight Committee. It was identified again in 2013 with the Comprehensive Plan Assessment Committee.
The purpose of the master plan was to take an inventory of existing parks and discuss the needs of the town’s existing facilities. The department and consultation firm began by getting input from the community through focus groups and an online survey. The plan takes into account maintenance work that needs to be done, programming and seeks recommendations for improvements.
The plan will make the town a better candidate for grants, show new ways to share costs with outside groups, seek efficiencies and prepare a capital plan for future development. The group looked into park trends and demographics, what facilities are used the most, how to prioritize investments and usage policies.
In April, Parks and Recreation Director Nan Lanahan asked for the board to consider spending $50,000 to hire a consultant. This was after Supervisor John Clarkson already asked for the cost of the study to be scaled back.
“I think everything went great,” said Lanahan in a later interview. “We had a great project team made up of town employees and residents to work with the consultant. And we had really valuable public input through the survey. Putting everything together to come up with priorities for the department was really interesting.”
A final presentation was given by the consultation firm Greenplay, LLC to the Town Board in October.
Some of the key issues identified were better marketing and communication of activities and facilities, increased program offerings, maintenance and improvement of current facilities and an increased level of services.
Art Thacher from Greenplay LLC said the town has 326 acres of park property and population is around 34,000. This equals about 10 acres per thousand, and based on the National Parks and Recreation Department the town is at an appropriate service level. This level of service should be maintained.
However, there are gaps in service in some areas of the town, and more pedestrian connectivity is needed.
Most parks were found to be in good condition and maintained well, but “some locations have aged significantly,” according to the study. Major repairs and upgrades were said to be needed of the Elm Avenue Park pools, playground, offices and maintenance structures. The study showed a good variety of parks throughout the town with “alternate service providers,” but said most parks do not incorporate cultural or historical aspects of the community.
Some of the more standout recommendations listed include improved signage town-wide, increased staff to meet demand, explore offering more non-athletic programs, meeting future population demand through more land acquisitions, and developing individual park master plans. Another recommendation was to improve accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide more programs for those with special needs.
For financial purposes, the consultants recommended a cost-recovery policy based on certain levels of programming and use. This could mean higher fees for some amenities, like individualized classes. They also advised pursuing more grants and donations. This would be something to look into for the future.
In June, the town received a grant of $150,000 from state Capital Economic Development funding and matched donations from the Friends of Bethlehem Parks and Recreation charity organization for a new playground at Elm Avenue Park. The plans are now in place for the 23 year-old wooden structure to be replaced with a playground made of more modern, safer materials. The grant also provided $50,000 in funding to the fitness trail at the Bethlehem Town Park for updates to its fitness equipment, and the Henry Hudson park in Selkirk will additionally receive $50,000 in funding for construction of a new canoe and kayak launch site. The boat launch will be the first of the three projects to begin construction.
Lanahan said because of the grant fund, those projects will be the department’s initial priorities
“I would say that the amount of positive feelings about our department that were brought up at the public forums was enlightening,” said Lanahan. “I’m happy to hear that most people think we are doing a great job.”
The new Parks and Recreation Master Plan was unanimously passed by the Town Board. The entire presentation can be found on the town’s website.