City focuses on its parks and recreation plans in the new year

Councilmembers offer their thoughts at meeting.

As the new year rolls through its first month, Mercer Island city staff is focused on restarting its Parks Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan and pressing the button on a recreation reset plan.

Its six-year PROS plan expired at the end of 2019 and work was suspended due to COVID 19. The pandemic also caused reductions in the city’s recreation realm, and they’ll be starting with a zero-based budget and rebuilding that division, according to Ryan Daly, the city’s emergency operations section chief.

On Jan. 19, the Parks & Recreation Commission held a joint meeting with the city council that featured a robust discussion about the two vital plans.

The new strategic PROS plan to be devised will lay out the city’s goals and policies for the next six years. It guides the programming and capital projects required to meet the community’s needs for parks, recreation and open space, as well as trails, arts and cultural events, according to the city’s site.

“It’s a critical document in that for many grants through the recreation and conservation office, it’s a requirement to have an updated plan. That’s one of our big things we need to be able to obtain grant funds,” Daly told the Reporter.

Prior to COVID, the city conducted a community survey, which showed that parks and recreation stands high on residents’ activities lists. Shoreline access was the top amenity for residents, who are also drawn toward larger community events, which are on hold due to COVID.

It’s essentially a new day rising for the city’s recreation division as it moves forward with a clean slate.

“What we’re really doing is rebuilding and taking the community input for the programs or the services they would like to see return,” said Daly, adding that they’re ready to take advantage of this rare opportunity.

They’re focusing on community priorities at the outset, specifically summer camp programming with their third-party partners who run the activities utilizing city facilities.

Daly said they’re also “really focusing on setting a cost-recovery strategy — that’s what the Parks & Recreation Commission is working through right now.”

At the Jan. 19 meeting, councilmembers weighed in on how they envisioned Mercer Island parks and recreation in the year 2050.

“I’d like to see a healthy and robust park and rec program that doesn’t feel commercial and feels kind of right size for Mercer Island in terms of especially the K through 12, trying to find summertime activities for that kind of cohort,” said Salim Nice.

Craig Reynolds and Lisa Anderl agreed that there should be no net loss of park land. Anderl is not a fan of a multitude of paved areas in parks, but knows they need some for access purposes.

“I think every inch of impervious surface that we add to the parks diminishes the quality of life and the quality of experience there. I just think we need to focus on preserving the natural habitat, as natural as it can be,” she said.

Looking toward the near future of five years, deputy mayor Wendy Weiker said she’d like to see more of the community events like Easter egg hunts and picnics and movies in the park returning to the Island.

“I think that programming that brings people together and outside and getting back into community building and community gathering is going to be really important in the short term,” she said.

In Jake Jacobson’s eyes, a volunteer-led adopt-a-park program would be a worthy addition to the city’s activities docket.

“I think there are some finishing touches (on parks) that the city is probably not going to be able to directly afford,” he said. “We can harness some of the volunteer energy we have in this community to have a very finished look and complete look to our parks.”

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