City holds forum about park plans
Parkville residents who spoke at a recent public forum about the future of a public park rejected upgrading ball fields and instead envision a welcoming space for nature enthusiasts and the wildlife who rely on the area’s wetlands for survival.
The public forum, hosted by the city last Wednesday, Feb. 16, created an additional opportunity for residents to provide their hopes for the future of Platte Landing Park, one of the state’s few locations where migratory birds can rest and re-charge during journeys that span hundreds and sometimes thousands, of miles.
Parkville Public Works Director Alysen Abel moderated the event and listened as residents reiterated the desires of the majority who completed a recent city survey. More than 900 residents completed a city survey asking whether city officials should concentrate on baseball fields within the park or creating a more viable wetlands area that will support wildlife and those who visit the park for hiking and enjoying nature.
The 13-question form was filled out by 850 people online and about 55 completed paper surveys. About 59 percent of survey respondents answered “no” to the question, “Would you like to see new athletic fields constructed?” Instead, those respondents stated that they prefer a focus on improving the park for non-team recreation, such as hiking, and ranked restrooms as a high priority.
A traffic study also was held, but the consultant reported that further study would be needed now that the plan for the park is taking shape and will not need to manage additional traffic to support those attending games at the ball fields.
Resident Sheryl Biermann spoke at the hearing and said the survey results send a resounding message about priorities. “People are very engaged, people are very aware,” she said of the high percentage of Parkville residents who returned the survey. The results show public opinion. “No longer can there be any question at all,” she said, adding that residents want “more trees, more nature than what’s already there.” She advocated for a “pollination station” where insects can feed on milkweed, a favorite plant. The wetlands should be supported with clay to hold the water, she said, adding that Platte Landing provides a picturesque buffer between industry in Kansas City and the natural setting in Parkville.
“What we have is extremely unique,” Biermann said and added that city officials should capitalize on the area to attract visitors from throughout Kansas City and beyond. “During COVID, people flooded to the parks,” she said. “It’s very healing, it’s rejuvenating and there’s no place else in the Kansas City area like English Landing and Platte Landing Parks.” (English Landing Park is another nearby park that also has been slated for improvements.)
City officials already recently announced a plan to remove plastic netting that was placed over the wetlands area presumably to control invasive weeds. But the netting snuffs out native plants upon which wildlife depend. Abel has said the netting needs to be removed while native plants are dormant and said, at the meeting, that officials are working to remove the netting in time for spring with a deadline of March 1.
Local Audubon enthusiasts also have complained that the netting poses a threat to wildlife because they can become ensnared. Parkville purchased the wetlands for $1 from Platte County in 2019.
In addition, the county awarded the city a $1 million grant to make certain improvements to the park, but the agreement was modified after city officials scrapped a plan to install lights to illuminate the ball fields. Residents and nature enthusiasts complained the lights would confuse birds and other wildlife and could lead to their death. Abel said she also is consulting with county officials about how to spend the grant money and would like to meet with them again because “I have a lot of scenarios I’d like to present.” One goal is to maintain a good working relationship with county officials, she said at the meeting.
City officials plan to hire a parks director to manage such projects but are waiting for several new aldermen and a new mayor to be selected in the April election, Abel said.
Newly hired City Administrator Alexa Barton, who is replacing retiring administrator Joe Parente, needs time to become acclimated before working to hire a parks director, Abel said. Barton started in the position a week earlier and will spend the next few weeks being trained by Parente.
“Hopefully, we’ll have someone in place (as parks director) by later this year,” Abel said, adding that the position could be filled by this summer, perhaps in July or August. The director would oversee parks operations, but other duties could include special events, project management and marketing.
“We have a lot going on in our parks and we want to make sure we have somebody with that expertise,” Abel said.
Abel thanked the approximately 20 people in attendance and those who watched remotely from the city’s website. Abel said the process should not be rushed. “We need to take our time and be very purposeful,” she said. “We want to be sure everyone can be proud of our amenities.”
She wrapped up the 90-minute meeting when she said, “You had a lot of great comments, ideas and suggestions we want to take into account moving forward.”