When it comes to Juneau’s Parks and Recreation dollar, two truths are constantly at odds: everyone has an interest in recreation and nobody wants to show up to a 12:45 p.m. public meeting when it’s nice outside.
Such is the dilemma Parks and Recreation Director Kirk Duncan faces as he attempts to do something that hasn’t been done since 1997: develop a master plan for Parks and Rec. Duncan met with the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at the Moose Lodge on Thursday to explain the two year process and how it will shape the future of Juneau’s facilities and programs.
“There’s really been no overwhelming desire to do this before,” Duncan said. “I’m looking for something I can pull off the shelf to give me direction.”
Parks and Rec drafted master plans in 1977 and 1997, but Duncan, the director since early 2015, wants to accelerate the process, updating the plan every five years to engage the public. The first step will be a lengthy public comment period starting after Labor Day.
Duncan mentioned a few issues he’s confident will be brought up during the public comment period — ATV recreation, the proper use for Centennial Hall, new community gardens, turf softball fields and a new ice rink in the valley — but stressed that Parks and Rec has no agenda.
“We’re going to be talking about everything really,” Duncan said. “We’ve developed a new attitude of getting to yes. I have worked with everybody in the department to really try. In a bureaucracy often the first thing out of our mouths is ‘No, we can’t do that,’ so we are really trying to get to an attitude where we try our hardest to say yes.”
Parks and Rec project manager Alexandra Pierce stressed that discussions will be led by the public.
“While we probably have a few ideas of what the major issues are going to be because we have people operating our facilities and programs, we want to hear from the public what they feel the major issues are,” Pierce said, adding that after the public comment period is over this winter, Parks and Rec will “start centering the plan around the things people are really excited about in the community and what people really want to see.”
Pierce said Parks and Rec is looking at the best options they have for getting community members involved in the planning process.
“I know from running a number of public meetings that often 12 people show up and they are the same 12 people and that’s great, but hopefully we will be able to capture a lot of people online,” Pierce said. “We really want people to self select and engage with us.”
Duncan mentioned three parks downtown as an example of facilities Parks and Rec would welcome public input on.
“We have Chicken Yard Park up on Starr Hill, we have Cathedral Park and Capital Park. Do we really need three parks that close together?” Duncan mused. “Or should we just have one park, Capital Park, and do it really well and turn Chicken Yard Park into a community garden? These are the kinds of things that will come out of our master plan process.”
Part of the discussions will be figuring out the desired balance between facilities and programs moving forward, Duncan said. Parks and Rec used to be more “program heavy,” offering many youth and adult sports leagues while following the 1977 plan. Recently, as youth and adult sports groups have developed independent of Parks and Rec, they have moved more towards an emphasis on facilities.
Duncan fielded questions at the end of his presentation, and though he expressed Parks and Rec’s willingness to engage the public, there was one question he didn’t want to field. One attendee jokingly asked if Parks and Rec has any plans to lease some of their 6,000 acres of land to marijuana growers.
Duncan smiled. “Next question,” he said.