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ITHACA, N.Y. — Waterfront access, indoor facilities and more programs are some of the things local residents would like more of when it comes to parks and recreation in the City of Ithaca.

The city has been working with Pros Consulting to survey residents about parks and recreation and is putting together a master plan to put those ideas into motion. When completed, the Parks and Recreation Master Plan will give the city an overall strategy for managing local parks, from large waterfront spaces like Stewart Park to smaller neighborhood parks.

“We really wanted to find a way to maximize (parks’) value to the community,” said Megan Wilson, senior planner in the City of Ithaca Planning Division. “We see new development and our population grows. We want to make sure there’s green spaces and parks and playgrounds and activities for the community.”

For about nine months, the consulting firm has been gathering feedback from residents in Ithaca and Tompkins County. They have conducted surveys and held focus groups and met with local boards, groups and commissions. Based on the feedback, the firm has drafted recommendations for improvements of city parks and recreational programs.

Austin Hochstetler, senior project manager for Pros Consulting, said some of the strengths of local parks are the lakefront park access, the local trail system, dedicated staff and that the local parks are well used.

So what’s missing? People surveyed said they want a natural swimming location, public restrooms downtown, trash receptacles and recycling bins in parks and more sports fields. People also want parks to be more accessible, safe and clean, low cost, with amenities year-round. People also said they want to see Cass Park improved and Stewart Park restored.

Hochstetler said there was a lot of desire to see the waterfront area improved and restored in Ithaca.

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Two people who attended the draft plan meeting Wednesday suggested the city add pickleball courts since the sport continues to grow in popularity. More than 2.5 million people play the paddle sport in the U.S., according to the USA Pickleball Association.

Wilson said she was surprised to see that so many people use the smaller parks in Ithaca, like Baker Park and Strawberry Fields.

“Now we need to focus on what we can do to improve them. What can we do to make them more inviting to the community, whether it be something passive like just relaxing in the green space or some of them do have ball fields and basketball courts and such,” Wilson said.

Feedback from the community also showed that people want indoor facilities like an indoor ice rink or pools that are accessible year-round.

Wilson said it costs about $950,000 to operate all of the parks in the City of Ithaca, excluding the Newman Golf Course.  That includes Stewart and Cass Parks as wells as more than 20 smaller neighborhood parks. A large portion of the costs are offset by revenues generated by park facilities and programs and the remaining costs are funded through the city budget, plus contributions from the Town of Ithaca and the Recreation Partnership, Wilson said.

The next step is to create a final master parks and recreation plan which will include action steps and also recommend ways to fund improvements. When it is completed, there will be another public presentation.

The Powerpoint and additional information from the presentation Wednesday will be available on the city’s website by the end of the week, Wilson said. Members of the public can still email questions and feedback to the planning department. Contact Wilson at mwilson@cityofithaca.org with questions.

This story will be updated with links to the presentation when available.

Featured image: “Cayuga Lake at Ithaca. One of the willow trees down at Stewart Park.” by Andy Arthur is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.