Dells adopts five-year outside recreation plan

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JOHN GITTINGS

Wisconsin Dells parks and outdoor recreation facilities will see some changes over the next four years based on resident feedback.

On October 17, following a presentation by MSA Professional Services Associate Planner Emily Soderberg at the council meeting, the city’s municipal council unanimously approved the 2023-2028 Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (CORP).

Soderberg said the purpose of the plan is to direct city budgets and capital improvement projects related to parks, trails and recreational facilities.

This CORP renewal is necessary for the city to continue receiving state and federal park and recreation grants, specifically the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, a fund established in 1989 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to preserve and protect environmental areas and increase opportunities for outdoor recreation.

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Compilation of the plan began in February, and the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Waterways Committee conducted public polls, forums, and other feedback to create a plan that would tailor the needs of the city’s parks over the next five years.

CORP 2023-2028 goals include developing new parks and recreation areas where city growth requires it, improving the connectivity and use of parks, designing the areas for more seasons of the year, and preserving environmental corridors as open spaces.

Satisfaction with the city’s leisure activities fell from 2015 to 2021. Dissatisfaction has also fallen slightly, as a significantly higher proportion of respondents have a neutral opinion on this topic.

In terms of amenities, adding a dog park was voted for by most residents surveyed; almost 40% of the inhabitants wanted it. Other facilities supported by more than 20% included a splash pool, a new outdoor pool and recreation center, a sledding hill, new canoe/kayak facilities, and off-road hiking and biking trails.

Other poll results included 82% of respondents supporting city funding allocations for a new outdoor pool and 86% supporting allocations for a new recreation center. Planning a dog park and developing a new outdoor pool area is one of the Parks, Recreation and Waterways Committee’s priorities for the duration of the newly approved CORP.

The committee also wants to explore properties in the city’s northeast, including properties north of the Woodside Sports Complex and Wisconsin Dells Business Park. Resurfacing the current tennis courts at Wisconsin Dells Middle School to accommodate four pickleball courts is also a priority.

Completing a study of the Americans with Disabilities Act and developing a transition plan to make parks more accessible to people with disabilities is another important aspect of CORP. The city also intends to expand access to the Wisconsin River and is considering charging a parking fee for future development.

The population in the CORP’s “Community Service Area,” which is the area covered by the Dells-Delton Recreation Department (Wisconsin Dells, Lake Delton, Towns of Springville, Newport, New Haven, Dell Prairie, Delton, and Dellona), increased by almost 31% from 2000 to 2020. A significant leveling off is expected from 2020 to 2040 with a projected growth of almost 8%.

Currently, the city of Wisconsin Dells has 13.4 hectares of parkland per 1,000 residents, according to a 2021 review by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The NRPA strives to maintain a minimum of 12 acres per 1,000 residents in all communities and that all residents be within a 10 minute walk of a public park or recreation area.

“With the city projected to grow through 2040, more parking space will likely need to be acquired to maintain the service level of 12 hectares per 1,000 residents,” said Soderberg, who also praised the city’s efforts to maintain the park’s walkability among residents.

Parks and recreation are key factors in people’s decision to move to a city, according to the new CORP. Four out of five people are looking for quality parks and recreation areas when they move. Since it began in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has motivated people much more to seek socially distanced outdoor recreation.