Wichita dog lovers will have another place to take their pooches when the city opens its third dog park in Meridian Park at 2127 N. Meridian this summer.
It’s one of several additions to the parks system that residents will see in 2012, including a new ball field for kids with disabilities at Orchard Park, new bicycling paths and a paved runway for radio-controlled airplane enthusiasts.
“When we did the open spaces planning meetings a couple of years ago, a lot of the citizens who came were dog enthusiasts and wanted us to open some dog zones," said Doug Kupper, director of the city’s Park and Recreation Department. “It was up there pretty high on the priority list."
Sedgwick County residents will also notice a few park improvements, including new restrooms and a low-water crossing at Lake Afton Park and a new fishing dock at Sedgwick County Park.
The city’s first dog zone, the Arson Canine Ashley Memorial Dog Park, opened two years ago in Chapin Park at 2400 E. MacArthur. It attracts hundreds of dogs and their owners each week during good weather, Kupper said.
Meridian Park, which sits on the Arkansas River, had been mostly undeveloped before installation of the dog zone. It will contain separate areas for large and small dogs. It’s expected to be ready by mid-summer. Officials have asked that dog owners not use the park in the meantime, because grass has been planted there. The city’s third dog zone is the Murfin Animal Care Campus Dog Park at the Kansas Human Society, 3303 N. Hillside.
Chapin Park is also where the city recently put in a 400-foot paved runway for radio-controlled airplanes. The funding was provided by the Hawker Beechcraft employees club. The runway will replace one in Beech Park, which was sold to a developer.
“It’s an excellent facility," Mark Kilby, president of the Wichita Radio Control Club, said of the new runway.
To improve access to Chapin, the city finished a road through the park so that visitors can enter from MacArthur or Hydraulic. It’s also installing new restrooms there. Kupper said the 190-acre Chapin Park “is the first regional park we have opened in at least a decade. It takes time to build a regional park." Future plans call for a skateboard park and improvements to off-road bicycling trails at the park, which was built over a landfill that closed in 1979.
Miracle Field, designed for kids with disabilities, is scheduled to be dedicated May 5 at Orchard Park, 4808 W. Ninth St. It will feature a rubber-coated surface completely accessible to wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Lines and bases are painted on the field.
The field was developed as a home for the Miracle League of Wichita, which was started four years ago with 40 players and this year expects to have about 100.
The field "is the only one like it in Kansas," said Lainie Armstrong, who founded the league so that children like her 6-year-old son, Chance, could play. "The closest one like it is in Oklahoma."
The league had been playing its games on regular baseball diamonds, whose uneven surfaces presented navigational challenges to many of the children. Also, dirt and dust could interfere with trachea tubes worn by some.
“If they fall on the synthetic surface, it will absorb and they won’t get near as banged up," Armstrong said.
The league pairs each player with a volunteer during games, uses balls equipped with beepers for players with visual impairments, and employs other adaptive equipment to make the game accessible to physically and mentally challenged kids. There are bleachers, dugouts and an announcer’s box — “the whole bit," Armstrong said.
New paths, programs
Several new paved paths that will make it easier for bicycles to navigate the city should be open by year’s end. The Redbud trail will run northeast from the I-135 bike path at Murdock Street to the 1800 block of North Oliver, passing central city neighborhoods and the Wichita State University campus. In the south, the city expects to finish paths that will link trails along the Arkansas River to Chapin Park, Planeview Park and the I-135 path.
Since closing one neighborhood recreation center because of budget cuts, Kupper said the city has retooled many of the programs offered by its other centers to better serve the wishes of residents.
That includes offering “educational and lifestyle" programs in partnership with Home Depot, Butler Community College and other organizations. Some popular programs — from “tiny tot" tea parties to Summer of Discovery day care to swim classes, Zumba and aerobics — remain.