City parks get graded, repaired

FIX-IT LIST: Volunteers conduct surveys and report their findings.

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 17, 2011 

Tony Oktollik, 12, left, and Keeshaun Rowland swing from play equipment at Ira Walker Park on Sixth Avenue in East Anchorage. The park received a grade of "D" in 2008. This year the park got $97,000 in improvements, from new play equipment to upgraded signs, lighting and a hopscotch area.

MARC LESTER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

Three years ago, more than a thousand volunteers fanned out with clipboards into 53 Anchorage parks and rated them, looking at landscaping, mudholes, worn asphalt, playground equipment and more.

The overall grade: C-minus.

A mega fix-it list resulted, and since then 27 neighborhood parks have been upgraded at a cost of $2 million, say Anchorage Park Foundation reports.

This fall, the city Parks Department and the Park Foundation organized a new park survey that's already under way and will wrap up Oct. 2. It is asking volunteer graders to re-check some of the same parks and see if they've improved, and also to evaluate others that were never rated.

Community councils across town, from Mountain View to Turnagain to Government Hill, and other groups are sending out people, said Beth Nordlund, director of the foundation.

But anyone can volunteer in a park near where he or she lives, or in one from a list the foundation and city department would like to see rated, she said.

She estimates a review of a neighborhood park -- as opposed to big parks like Kincaid -- can be done in 15 minutes. The volunteer effort targets mostly neighborhood parks.

Volunteers can print a paper version of the rating materials at anchorageparkfoundation.org.

Or here's something new: The Park Foundation has just created an application for smart phones including iPhones, Androids and Blackberries ("Anchorage parks" at the App Store). People can fill out the report card on their smart phones and even add photos, said Nordlund.

The app does other things, too. At any time, smart phone users will be able to send feedback on a park. Nordlund said the information will go straight to a spreadsheet where city and foundation employees can see it. Plus, there are addresses and directions to all 223 city parks and information about parks closest to wherever you are.

Also new this year for the grading project: The first trail, the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, will be evaluated. Trail Watch, a city volunteer group that looks out for the safety of trail users, is taking charge of the trail rating, Nordlund said.

Since the 2008 rating period, each year the city and foundation have been fixing up a few of the parks with problems -- 11 this year, eight the year before.

For example, park graders gave the Ira Walker Park off East Sixth Avenue east of Boniface Parkway a "D" rating in 2008, with graffiti covering benches, tables, signs and playground structures, and a damaged slide and play tunnel.

This year, the park got $97,000 in improvements, from new play equipment to upgraded signs, lighting and a hopscotch area.

The Dave Rose Park at 201 S. Lane St. in the Russian Jack Community Council area also received a "D" rating, with poor lighting, graffiti, broken benches and tables, splintering playground equipment and overgrown forested areas. The fix-it list included refurbishing playground equipment, replacing rotting bollards and restoring basketball courts.

It's been re-done. "The basketball courts look great," said Nordlund. "They're getting a lot of play." The fix-it money comes from all kinds of sources, said Nordlund, such as the charitable Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation and federal and state grants.

The foundation raises money and rounds up volunteers, among other work, and then the parks get refurbished to municipal standards, said city parks superintendent Holly Spoth-Torres. The partnership "helps us leverage dollars," she said.

The partners expect to continue fixing up eight to 10 of the graded parks each year, along with other projects, she said.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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