Stoney Creek Park eyeing usage issues
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 30, 2011 11:26 PM
District 2 Councilman Bob Waller slowly glides along the paths through Stoney Creek Park on his bicycle.
His pace is metered and deliberate as he traverses the park, something he does almost daily when the weather permits.
He is not only exercising and enjoying an afternoon ride. He is also overseeing the park's metamorphosis from flood plain to a recreational destination for citizens.
In the years since the city purchased the land with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, the residential area that Hurricane Floyd reduced to a quagmire has grown into its charge to be a passive park ripe with recreational opportunities ranging from a disc golf course to walking paths and a play zone for children.
The FEMA funds strictly dictate what the land can be used for and Waller, who lives just a stone's throw from the park at the corner of Randolph and Walnut streets, has seen it as his duty to protect the passive nature of the park, even while making compromises to give Stoney Creek its own identity among the city's 11 parks.
"We said it should be open space. A few things have changed since then, but we told the neighbors and so forth that we were going to keep it open. I think we need to stay with what we've said," he said.
But it's not just for the benefit of neighbors. Waller insists the openness creates a safer sense for all park visitors.
"They feel safe because it's open and you can see it all the way through," he said. "I think we need to keep it that way."
Wiggle room on the "passive park" concept has varied during recent discussions as the Stony Creek Park Alliance, a non-profit group formed to direct the park's evolution, has wavered on its placement of a bathroom facility for the park.
The initial plan, Waller said, was to have the bathroom building near the parking area on Ash Street, but that idea was quickly rejected due to the spot being in the direct floodplain.
Opting for a plat closer to the dog park, the facility was planned to go on the north side of Walnut Street near the Randolph intersection in the grant application to the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, but that has recently come under some scrutiny as well.
The department received notice that it had been awarded the grant May 5 in the amount of $132,750 for the installation of picnic shelters, an amphitheater, a beach volleyball area and, of course, the restroom facilities.
Members of the alliance expressed concern that the location was too remote and hidden from Ash Street by hedges and trees. Visibility, Peter Roethling, a commission member, was something that the restrooms in a park required to deter vagrants and vandalism.
Waller, whose home would be less than 100 yards from the bathroom facility, said the vagrants would be an issue wherever it was placed, and wants the bathrooms where the grant dictated them, unless the Ash Street option could be worked out.
"They wanted it closer to the dog park and the neighbors have no problem with that. We're going to lock it and open it daily like at other parks and I'm sure you have (vagrants) at every park. I just don't want to have it in the middle of the green space."
But other commission members aren't so sure.
John Casey, a member who lives on Randolph Street, said he had had too many things stolen from his home for him to support having a public bathroom facility "tucked behind the hedges."
"Bathrooms need to be seen," he said.
Waller said he understands the reservations by residents, but said the location wouldn't do much to deter vagrants.
"They have a legitimate concern, but they're going to be there wherever you put it," he said. "My thought is if somebody wants to break into a bathroom just let 'em do it."
When the alliance met on-site June 30, a vote to reconsider the location was inconclusive, as members wanting to move the bathrooms closer to the climbing boulders in the children's area and away from the hedges were unsuccessful in convincing naysayers to endorse the move.
At the regular monthly meeting July 21, however, the alliance was able to find a compromise by selecting a site between the two spots --one that allows for visibility while not disrupting the openness of the park.
There's just one problem, though: There is no sewer or water hookup that far into the property, meaning a substantial rise in cost for the bathroom facility.
Interim Parks and Recreation director Sherry Archibald said she will ask the alliance not to consider that option given the additional expenses, but Waller said ahead of time that if a slight rise in cost would make for the best facility, it might take priority over other projects in the works.
"It may cost a couple extra dollars to run water, but maybe we'd rather do that and give up something else," he said.
One of the main draws for the alliance to have the bathrooms near Walnut Street is the newest addition to the park: an off-leash dog park.
The fence for the park went up earlier this summer and currently has its gates unlocked, giving pet owners an area where their dogs can run untethered in the city limits.
But the gates will be locked eventually, Parks Superintendent John Albert said, as the dog tags have come in and the department is preparing to register dogs for the one-acre park at a cost of $20 annually.
Dog parks in Fayetteville and Raleigh operate free of charge to dog owners, but Albert based his dog park model on the one in New Bern, the city where he was formerly employed.
The Down East Dog Park in New Bern, a one-acre park, charges $35 annually, Albert said, and the fees, which are kept in a separate fund, go directly toward the upkeep of the park.
Interim Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Archibald said the fee payments will go into the parks department's general fund, although a separate line item will be established for the dog park. She said the funds will be used for future improvements to the park.
Albert said he had never heard of a free dog park, although more than five exist in surrounding areas.
Nikki Brewster of Carolina Pines in Raleigh said the city park depends on its patrons to monitor and take care of the dog park, although the city funded its construction.
Riverside Dog Park in Fayetteville, a five-acre park, doesn't charge a fee either, nor do the two other parks in Raleigh or the 2.5-acre dog park in Greenville, although Shana Kriewall, the recreation superintendent there, said the department is looking at doing a registration process due to some issues with misbehavior so that owners could be held accountable.
But accountability was raised as an issue with the park policy at the Stoney Creek Alliance meeting as well, as members debated whether the self-enforcing "honor code," whereby pet owners wouldn't allow non-registered dogs in the park illegally, would work. There are no plans for staff members to verify that each dog in the fenced-in area has a valid dog park tag, although members decided that an owner will run the risk of losing his or her registration if found in violation of any of the policies. This measure was added to the park rules at the July 21 meeting.
The dog park has dominated discussions during monthly meetings of the park alliance since its location has helped determine the site of the bathroom facility as well as some handicapped-accessible parking spaces off Walnut Street.
The spaces will be near the dog park and the bathroom, although there are no handicapped-accessible slopes to either facility -- something Waller and Albert said would need to be addressed eventually.
The spaces will allow for easy access to the park, as evidenced by visitors who have already illegally utilized the area on Walnut Street for parking. The section of road is marked with "No Parking" signs at the intersection with Randolph and comes to a dead end at the edge of the dog park, meaning visitors who park there are leaving their vehicles in front of private residential properties.
"There's "No Parking" signs there, but people are going to do that," Waller said, noting that it was an enforcement issue and empathizing with the property owners near the dog park. "I wouldn't want people parking there that I didn't know who it was."
Waller said he hadn't heard any concerns from park users about the walk from the Ash Street parking lot, which is eye-squinting distance from the dog park entrance, and that a lot of people that live in the nearby neighborhood simply walk to the park.
"It's quite a distance," Albert said of the walk between the parking lot and the dog park, although he said the walking through the park gives dogs time to calm down before entering the off-leash area.
Casey had a simple take on the distance between the legal parking area and the dog park.
"They're healthy anyhow. They can walk," he said following the last meeting.
Casey was one of two individuals at the June 30 meeting at Stoney Creek Park who parked at the Ash Street parking lot, with the remaining dozen or so attendees all opting to park in the illegal spots Waller spoke of during the July 21 meeting or choosing to walk from home or another location.
When asked about the conduct of his fellow alliance members, Waller just laughed.
"That's something we've got to work on," he said. "We have told people we will keep the parking away from the neighborhood."
As for removing the bollards and allowing traffic to park along Walnut Street in front of the dog park, Waller said that option wasn't favorable either.
"We don't want people driving through. We want to keep the cars on the perimeter of the park," he said.
Another issue with the dog park that was discussed in the alliance's last meeting was water, as only the portion of the park reserved for small dogs has a spigot. The small dog area is planned to be for dogs weighing less than 25 pounds, although Albert said he felt it would essentially be used to put dogs that became aggressive in isolation for a time before joining other dogs back in the large dog area.
"I think over time you'll find that the small dog park will be used very little and the small dog area will actually become more like a doggie time-out for dogs that weren't socializing or playing nice," he said.
So what's the plan for water? Albert said ideally he would like to install a second water fountain in the large dog area that would be human- and dog-friendly, although cost estimates for that sort of installation would be about $4,000.
"That's the goal, but we're going to look at trying to supply water to the large dogs through a spigot," he said, noting that cost was an issue in bringing more water to the dog park.
Albert said the water could easily be transported since there is a large tub beneath the spigot, though he also encouraged dog owners to bring their own gallon jugs and bowls.
"We're looking into options. We may provide water in the center perhaps, but it comes down to what we can do to make it happen," he said.
The small dog section also has a large space between its swinging back gates that is large enough for dogs to slip through, another concern Albert said he'll need to address.
Although dog owners have been frequenting the area since the fence went up, the official opening of the dog park and the enforcement of the registration process has not yet been scheduled, though there have been expectations that the park would host a grand opening event of some sort throughout the summer.