December 5, 2013

O.J. Watson Park future topic of Saturday public meeting

The future of Wichita’s O.J. Watson Park goes before the community Saturday afternoon during a public meeting.

The future of Wichita’s O.J. Watson Park goes before the community Saturday afternoon during a public meeting.

The 3 p.m. meeting at the park, 3022 S. McLean Blvd., near 31st Street South, is to gather ideas for the park’s future, said Doug Kupper, the city’s parks and recreation director. There will be 15-minute walking tours at 3:10, 3:50, and 4:10 p.m. Also included is a 3:30 p.m. overview of the planning process for the park’s future, and examples of the amenities offered by similar parks around the country.

One of the centerpiece attractions in the park is its half-size train, which is not currently operating. The engine of the miniature train is 30 years old and on its last legs. It needs to be replaced at a cost the city estimates at $175,000.

The park took in $30,000 in ticket sales last year, the city has said.

Kupper and Wichita City Council member James Clendenin, whose District 3 includes the park, say the train’s future is up in the air. Clendenin said the train could be replaced or renovated – if funding can be found.

“We do not have a definite plan as of yet for replacing it,” Kupper said Thursday in an e-mail. “We have a number of concept ideas that are being explored as well as a number of people and groups planning fundraising activities to pay for a new one.”

Clendenin said he believes the money can be raised to get a train going again in the park. However, the train will need significant ridership to remain financially viable.

“It’s going to have to be self-sustaining,” he said.

The future of the 119-acre park along the Arkansas River in south Wichita rose to the forefront during budgeting last summer at City Hall, when changes at the park were floated as a partial solution to the city’s budget crunch.

Clendenin was clear Thursday: Neither should happen.

“I’ve made it clear to the city manager (Robert Layton) that the park’s not going to close and we need that train,” he said.

The park includes a 40-acre lake for fishing and pedal boats and also offers a variety of recreational opportunities such as miniature golf, train rides, pony rides, volleyball, and picnicking. The master plan for the park that arises from the community meetings will produce a vision and action plan for its future, city officials said.

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