As spring and summer get underway, improvements and repairs also are getting started in Newton’s parks. From ADA upgrades to repairing bike trails, the city has a number of projects in the works for the more than 300 acres of recreational land serving Newton residents
Among the first projects to be tackled in 2017 is the creation of a first-of-its-kind boulder park in Iowa. The boulder park, which will be located at Aurora Park, will consist of larger manufactured rocks that are designed for climbing. Installation of the nearly $200,000 project begins in May said Nathan Unsworth, Newton’s Administration Park Superintendent.
“I’m not aware that there is another outdoor boulder park like this in Iowa,” he said. “It will be a new feature we can celebrate in our community. It will give people of all ages an opportunity to try something new because right now people have to drive to Des Moines to try rock climbing.”
Parks Board Member Amanda Price said the unique park is aimed at offering another amenity in the parks and to draw more visitors to the community.
“The boulder park puts us at a unique advantage because we would be the only park anywhere near us that has one of these,” she said. “We are hopeful that it will attract families to stop and stay awhile who might be passing through town on their travels.”
Other projects slated for completion in Newton’s 13 parks include ADA upgrades. Unsworth said these projects will help make the parks more accessible for everyone.
“Each year the city dedicates money towards improving accessibility in the community,” he said. “That is something we strive to do every year in the parks to ensure everyone can enjoy the park.”
The parks department is working at repairing bike trails in Children’s Forrest and adding restroom facilities similar to those added at Maytag and Woodland parks in 2016. Unsworth said these repairs and improvements also will help with accessibility to the parks.
“We will be installing a vault toilet at Agnes Patterson Park this summer which will benefit the entire park with a year-round restroom and it will have a bathroom closer to the Little League field,” he said. “The addition of these facilities helps make our parks accessible for year-round usage.”
With several projects set for completion during the summer, park staff and board members also have been working to pinpoint future areas of improvement. To help with planning the city received feedback from community members during several meetings to discuss Maytag Park and Westwood Golf Course.
“One of the big meetings was about the use of Maytag Park care takers house,” Unsworth said. “It was discussed using the house for park offices but following the meeting we are looking into using it as either long-term housing or for weekend rentals. We will consult with the state historical office for guidelines and work with the local historic preservation group to ensure the historic nature and integrity of the property stays intact.”
Meetings also took place to discuss ways to entice more people to use Westwood Golf Course, Newton’s 18-hole public course. Discussion included a variety of things from green fees to membership payments, hosting more events to making the golf course more accessible to new golfers.
“The parks board is working to improve Westwood by figuring out how to make it easier for non-golfers to start golfing by offering ways to make it more affordable and attractive to everybody and help non-golfers feel comfortable playing,” said Price, who led the meeting at Westwood.
Thanks in part to feedback from the meeting the city now offers a payment plan for Westwood memberships which allows people to make four monthly installments.
“The payment plan will hopefully give people another option if they’ve been considering joining,” Unsworth said. “It allows people to make payments rather than hand over a large sum at once making it more manageable for people.”
While payment plans, events and lowered green fees are now in place, Unsworth and Price said discussions are still happening for a new clubhouse at the golf course but no timeline has been established.
“Right now we are not at the point where we will embark down the clubhouse project,” Unsworth said. “We continue to do research on the impact the clubhouse would have on the course in terms of long-term financial aspects and uses of the building. We just have more background work to do but we really think it would be a good thing for the community.”
As long-term planning continues and the parks are prepped for the busy season, the city’s park office also is seeing changes. Park office and staff are relocating from the Newton Arboretum to the Newton Public Works offices at 1700 N. Fourth Ave. W. (just north of Thomas Jefferson Elementary).
“The move will be completed on May 1. Park services from buying pool passes to reserving shelters will all be located at the new office,” Unsworth said.