County plots park expansion


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Kent County plans to expand the number of regional parks over the next five years.

According to the recently approved five-year Kent County Parks Master Plan, which is required by the state to apply for grants, officials would like to expand currently owned parks to create designated regional parks.

Kent County has 43 parks and trails covering more than 7,000 acres, 6,000 of those acres consisting of regional parkland. 

The county said it needs more than 3,000 additional acres of regional parks property to meet minimum suggested national guidelines based on population.

To make this happen, the county plans to expand and connect some of its existing parks so they can meet the 200-acre requirement to be designed as regional parks. The county estimates acquisitions of more than 300 additional acres could make this happen, such as adding about 145 acres to Chief Hazy Cloud Park.

However, Assistant County Administrator Matthew VanZetten said the focus is less on the number of acres than on making strategic use of its existing large and regional parks.

Rather than having multiple pocket parks, VanZetten said the goal is to expand the publicly usable areas and make connections between them because people then would be more likely to see Kent County’s parks as a destination for hiking, sports, kayaking and other activities.

“What we're trying to do is make sure that we have these spread appropriately throughout the county in the right areas,” VanZetten said.

It’s all about improving the quality of life, he said.

“Those are kind of identity marks on communities sometimes, so our goal is to have quality regional parks that serve our growing diverse community,” VanZetten said.

The report says the public consistently expresses the most support for developing paved and natural-surfaced trails, upgrading restrooms, providing new picnic shelters, developing boating access and offering more fishing opportunities.

There are many detailed plans to improve the existing parks, add workers to better manage them and even create a dog park within one of the regional parks.

To help achieve these goals, the county has laid out plans to strengthen its financial resources for the parks departments, with the long-term goal of having no single source accounting for more than 40 percent of all department activities.

VanZetten said the county wants to work more hand-in-hand with the parks foundation and private investors to better establish those resources, which would go toward matching funds for grants from the state Department of Natural Resources for projects such as land acquisition.

The county would like to secure a minimum of $250,000 per year through 2023 for parkland and trail corridor acquisition.

He said about 40 percent of revenue for parks department operations comes from user fees, and 60 percent comes from the general fund.

VanZetten said the county is working with its communications director, Lori Latham, to determine how to best address spreading the word about the county’s parks going forward.

Latham said once the county’s strategic master plan is complete, they will be able to make sure the two plans align with the county’s overall long-term goals.

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