After years of study, the City of Salem has drafted a master plan for parks, and is seeking input from area residents. I urge you to view a copy of the plan at: www.cityofsalem.net/parksmasterplan and, most importantly, to participate.
Why should you take the time? Because though the new plan is filled with information about our park system and has many good recommendations, the implementation suggested does not adequately address our community’s priorities or current budget situation.
Here are my thoughts: The city has been reducing park budgets for years and there is little potential for an increase unless a parks bond is passed. While waiting for additional funding, the city should increase their efforts to recruit volunteers to develop its 600 acres of undeveloped parks. Many park amenities requested by the public could be provided by volunteers. These include trails, tree plantings, community gardens, picnic areas, and natural play areas.
The city’s surveys show that the most popular activity in parks is the use of trails. A full 62% of those surveyed said that they used paths and trails, and 59% said more trails are needed.
Volunteers can and do construct trails such as those at Fairmont Park, Skyline Park, and Croisan Scenic Way. So I recommend the city more actively promote volunteerism in our parks.
I also believe that, rather than buying more land, the city should first partner with other agencies to obtain more recreation opportunities.
What do I mean? Examples include:
The Bonneville Power Administration that owns the 100-foot wide strip under the powerlines in West Salem from Highway 22 to Michigan Avenue. This publicly owned land could become a spectacular trail.
The Oregon Department of Corrections has over 1,100 acres of land in SE Salem and the city could partner with the DOC to create a park larger than Minto-Brown.
The Oregon Department of Transportation owns land under the Willamette River and Mission Street bridges, storm water ponds along I-5, and the large natural areas near the I-5/Highway 22 Interchange that could be used for parks.
The Oregon State Fair has over 100 acres of land that is used for only two weeks a year. The Fair needs a partner and Salem needs more parkland near the fairgrounds.
We should also make edible landscaping a priority in our parks. Oregon has some of the highest hunger rates in the nation and over 20% of the state’s population is on food stamps. How about making it a policy to plant low-maintenance fruit trees and berry bushes in parks, such as mulberries, plums, and evergreen huckleberries? Many of us are already eating the blackberries growing in our parks.
I encourage all Salem-area residents to weigh in on the draft parks plan and let our city government hear your thoughts. Let’s encourage the city to focus on more trails, on developing land we already have, and in investing in edible landscaping. Meanwhile, if you want to put a trail in a park near you, or if you want to develop an area, you love – contact Tibby Larson, the volunteer coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-589-2197.
Let’s work together to make Salem rich in parks, trails and outdoor life.
Mark Wigg is an environmental consultant and recreational map publisher. He lives in Salem and he appreciates the friendly assistance he receives from the Parks Staff when volunteering on park projects. email@example.com.