City says it won’t pave cross-country trails at Buffalo Park

The city of Wichita is not going to pave over the trails that cross-country runners pound at Buffalo Park. We repeat: The city of Wichita is not going to pave over the trails that cross-country runners pound at Buffalo Park.

Runners and their supporters turned to social media during the weekend to blast what they thought were the city’s plans to pave the trails they use to train. By 4:30 p.m. Monday, 239 people had signed an online petition that encouraged people to “Say No to Paving Buffalo Park. Say no to the City of Wichita to create a Splash Park/Skate Park where Buffalo Park exists off of Central and Maize.”

Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell spent much of Monday taking calls and e-mails from upset people. The problem is, they were upset about something that’s not happening, Longwell said.

“How can you get to circulating a petition before you even make a phone call?” Longwell said of the grassroots effort.

The city understands that cross-country runners use Buffalo Park, near Central and Maize Road, to train, he said. In fact, the plans that the council will vote on Tuesday – $1 million in improvements, including an interactive splash pad – should improve the park that runners from three high schools, two colleges and one Catholic middle school use, he said.

“It doesn’t do anything but enhance the park and add amenities to west Wichita that aren’t available anywhere west of the river. I’m glad we can focus on quality of life. It’s just unfortunate that we have such an awesome project that got miscommunicated by folks that takes away from the enjoyment of something we’re building,” he said.

Here’s what happened, Longwell thinks: The Eagle published a story saying that improvements would include walking paths around the perimeter of the park. Some readers assumed that meant they would be paved. They tweeted. They e-mailed. They got riled up.

All of which Longwell says he understands, as people are passionate about their sports.

But he vowed Monday that the trails will remain as they are.

So did Bryan Frye, president of the parks board.

“We have no plans to pave the trails,” he said. “From the beginning of planning this park, we recognize and appreciate the cross-country use, and we don’t want to discourage that.”

Frye said there are some plans to reconfigure sidewalks, because “walking is one of the top priorities that we heard” during meetings about the city’s plans for parks.

“The park is big enough that we think they can both exist,” Frye said.

He also said that bicycle “pump” trails designed with various elevations could be a benefit for cross-country runners.

Cory Swords was initially worried. He’s in his seventh year as the head coach of Bishop Carroll High School’s boys cross-country team. Bishop Carroll uses the park, as do Maize High School, Northwest High School, Friends University and Newman University. The Westside Eagles, a middle school team of the westside parish schools that feed into Bishop Carroll, also run there.

Swords said the park is a good place primarily because it does have unpaved trails. Paved paths wreak havoc on cross-country runners’ bodies, he said. Running next to paved paths is difficult, because paved paths are elevated and so the earth around them is not level.

Swords also likes the park because “I can see all my kids.”

That’s especially important during hot weather, he said. Swords said talking to Longwell made him feel better.

“After speaking to Councilman Longwell, he was very receptive and he knew about the current use of the park,” Swords said.

Troy Houtman, parks and recreation director for the city, said he spoke to a lot of runners Monday. He said he told them the city wanted to work with them and wanted them to be able to continue to use the park for training.

“It was just the rumor mill hitting the city,” he said.

Longwell said “social media is a tremendous tool, but it can disseminate wrong information so quickly. That petition was circulating in no time flat.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.