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Despite blistering temperatures with a heat index above 100, crews are hard at work this week to transform formerly underutilized land into vibrant park facilities.
“They just finished hauling dirt from Gillette to the dog park at Toisnot Park. They are about three-fourths of the way done with the sidewalks and are starting to haul in the screening for the middle of the dog park area,” said Wilson Parks and Recreation Director David Lee. “They are going to be paving after this week. They are getting started on irrigation and fencing by the end of July and the sod will come in late September.
“As long as the weather stays good, they’ll keep rocking it out and we can open the dog park sometime in November.”
The 8 acres at the corner of Ward Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue previously had apartments, but flooding from Hurricane Floyd and Hurricane Matthew led to the development being demolished and the land turned over to the city. In an attempt to alleviate the flooding, crews hauled in dirt and raised the ground level by several feet.
The dog park is one component in a master plan being developed for Toisnot and Gillette parks that will include a trail connecting the two popular areas.
Also in the northern part of the city, crews are working on improvements at Lake Wilson during National Parks and Recreation Month. Water treatment workers started replacing the dam’s gates in the spring, but rain prolonged the project and officials said it’s now about halfway complete.
“As far as the park renovation plans goes, we’re opening bids in mid-July and we’re hoping to start construction in mid- to late-August or whenever the dam is finished,” Lee said. “Unfortunately, two days of rain can put you four days behind on that stuff, but we’ll be ready to roll when the time is right.”
Earlier this year, city councilmen approved nearly $900,000 to upgrade the amenities at Lake Wilson to include a new bridge over the dam, paved parking, sidewalks for accessibility, a bathroom, improved boat ramps and docks as well as a small dog park. Since a bridge was opened as part of the 2-mile walking trail, the park’s popularity has skyrocketed.
“I can’t go one day without someone saying something nice about Lake Wilson,” Lee said. “They all talk about how much they are using it, how they weren’t really walking much before but they love walking out there and they are amazed at how beautiful the park is.”
Lee said staff has worked hard to bolster the city’s parks with water features and the next one on the agenda is Wiggins Mill.
“It has not been funded, but we’ve completed the conceptual drawing and now we’re getting started on the construction drawing and pricing,” he said. “The plan is similar to Lake Wilson with a trail, boat ramps, a shelter and bathrooms, a fishing pier, kayak launch and open space. We’ve also done a bit of research about a blueway from Buckhorn to Wiggins Mill.”
Adding a blueway to allow boaters to travel between two parks through the public waterway as well as other amenities of local water features not only proves popular with locals, but for visitors as well.
“When we started out at Gillette, we kicked it off with soccer and then the playground and then baseball as one success leads to another,” Lee said. “From there, we’ve done more upgrades and now we’re seeing that momentum with our water-based parks. People really like Buckhorn and Lake Wilson has really boomed, but it will be so much more when we finish and that will all feed into people using Wiggins Mill.”
Spreading the attention to Wiggins Mill also will help to spread out the city’s parks.
“When we did the master plan, we plotted where our facilities are and the Wiggins Mill area is a place that needed attention,” Lee said. “We feel it will be a major upgrade when we’re able to do that and it will spread out our parks system more evenly throughout the city. This emphasis in the last couple of years on upgrading our parks with water is great for the community and brings people to town, too.”
Visit tinyurl.com/y49na6od for more information about the city’s parks and recreation opportunities.