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Meeting on fate of Watson Park draws 35 people on frigid Saturday

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, at 6:58 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, at 6:58 p.m.

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Do you use Watson Park? What do you think its future should be? Let us know through the Public Insight Network. Go to kansas.com/publicinsight and click on the Watson Park link.

Jack Cassuve, who rides his bike through city parks with his wife, Judy, said Wichita has beautiful parks, it’s just a shame people don’t use them more.

“This is one of the best parks in the city,” he said at O.J. Watson Park in southeast Wichita on Saturday after attending a public meeting about the park’s future. “There’s a lot to do here. I’ve come to this park for many years. I’ve bought our children here. So many things in the city have been folded up.”

Cassuve said he’d like to see some small rides, such as a carousel, added to the park, to make it appeal to young children.

His was just one idea offered at the meeting. About 35 people came to the park at 3022 S. McLean Blvd., near 31st Street South, on a frigid afternoon to offer ideas for the park. They took quick walking tours and heard city staff members talk about future options and give an overview of the planning process for the park’s future.

Those who attended filled out comment forms, stuck Post-it notes full of ideas for the park on a wall, and placed stickers on current and potential park amenities that they liked.

Kids were able to stay busy by coloring line drawings of choo-choo trains, bicycles and horses.

Among ideas for the park on the Post-it notes: fishing events, ice skating, better restrooms, swimming, a community center on the island and a roller coaster.

One person simply wrote, “Keep it.”

“This will always be a park. But what kind of park, and who runs it?“ Doug Kupper, the city’s parks and recreation director, said after the meeting.

The future of the 119-acre park came up during city budgeting last summer. Changes were floated as a partial solution to the city’s budget crunch. The city’s goal is to make the park self-sufficient by 2015, Kupper said. Currently it recovers only about 50 percent of its costs.

Watson Park includes a 40-acre lake for fishing and pedal boats and a host of recreational opportunities such as miniature golf, train rides, pony rides, volleyball and picnicking.

The park’s half-size train is one of the centerpiece attractions, but it has a 30-year-old engine that is on its last legs and needs to be replaced at a cost the city estimates at $175,000. The city has said a number of people and groups are planning fundraising activities to pay for a new one.

The nonprofit Wichita Parks Foundation is planning fundraisers to help the parks, including a fishing tournament for Watson Park.

Wichita City Council member James Clendenin, whose District 3 includes the park, told the audience that the council is committed to making Watson Park better than it is, and he urged those who attended to continue to give the city input and recruit others to do the same.

“This is a jewel for southeast Wichita and a jewel for our whole city. But it needs a facelift, it needs to be polished up a little bit,” Clendenin said. “We want to put our money in places that you’re going to use.”

The master plan for the park that arises from the community meetings will produce a vision and action plan for its future, city officials have said. Another public meeting will be held in February. The goal is to present a plan to the City Council by April.

“Not having Joyland anymore, not having the FantaSea waterpark, made it to where there’s not a lot to do here anymore,” Danielle Tracy, who lives near the park, told the audience. “I like a lot of the ideas I’ve seen. I think those would make it to where the park is 100 percent sustainable financially.”

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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