Park survey results are in: Trails, playgrounds, river access most desired

When it comes to parks, Keizerites feel the main ingredients missing are trails and pathways.

In late 2020, the city conducted a survey of residents regarding the city parks in anticipation of updating the parks master plan. In the end, Keizer received just enough responses to qualify for an adequate sample of the population.

Keizertimes previously reported that more than 1,400 replies had been logged. The end tally was 1,729 responses but it was later determined that more than 1,300 responses were submitted by an automated web-based program.

Of the legitimate responses 37% put more trails in parks and connecting parks as primary missing piece in the current parks. About 32% put better river access as a top priority and 31% responded that they wanted more variety and extraordinary features in the city’s playground offerings.

Residents also wanted to see more support for sports and fitness activities and community events such as festivals and fairs in local parks.

“We’re hearing more natural spaces, but with a variety of activities, is important,” said Cindy Mendoza, a spokesperson for Portland-based MIG, the firm consulting on the project. “Right behind that was attending community events, which tested even more highly than playing field sports or watching sports in the city.”

Regarding playgrounds, Mendoza suggested the city look into equipment that would serve teenagers and young adults. There is currently a dearth activities aimed at those groups in Keizer parks. A number of companies offer “fitness courts” that include both workout and play stations (think Ninja Warrior-type fun with less actual danger).

Keizer Little League Park, which will be included in the city’s master plan for the first time ever, arose as a point of conflict for survey respondents.

“When we asked about Keizer Little League Park specifically, the second most popular response was that no improvements are needed,” Mendoza said. “However, it has a number of issues that, if the city had to take over that site. It would be an enormous cost to the city. The park would not be up to city standards or ADA accessibility codes, or even the high maintenance standards that Robert Johnson (Keizer parks supervisor) has shown across the parks.”

Respondents, by and large, were complimentary of the state of Keizer parks. About 70% said they were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the number of parks and their condition.

Despite the customer satisfaction level, the report also found that several areas of the city were underserved or had no reasonable access to a park that served multiple interests. Several large gaps were found throughout the city. Some of the areas do have local parks, but access is either difficult, such as Northridge Park, or the local park can only serve one function, such a Bair Park – primarily forested park that visitors would struggle to even play a game of catch in.

The survey did not specifically ask about respondents’ satisfaction with park funding sources and a $4 service fee attached to utility bills, but Mendoza and others seemed to extrapolate the response to such questions from a single meeting with a single neighborhood association. The answer that group gave was: no new taxes or fees.

“On one hand, we have a ‘no new funding’ message. On the other hand, they’re acknowledging that there are some deficiencies in parks that would need increased funding in order to address,” Mendoza said.

In light of that response, the MIG report suggests focusing renewed efforts in some of the large neighborhood parks, such as Bob Newton Family Park, Meadows Park and Wallace House Park.

“These sites serve individuals, children, and families with features such as playgrounds, picnic areas, sports courts, and open grass areas for leisure and play,” the report states.

When it came to the question of what Keizer would like to see in recreation programming, Keizeites wanted to see sports, fitness and health programs, community gatherings and natural interpretation elements.

Mendoza was reticent to recommend that the city leap head-first into a full recreation program, the type required if the city decides to pursue a large indoor recreation facility in Keizer Rapids Park. A facility of that type was originally envisioned for Keizer’s only regional park.

“Those types of facilities often end up being subsidized by the city. Some smaller cities start with a very small move, such as a part-time recreation coordinator who is recruiting either contract providers or other partners or non-profits to provide activities, events and programs in your parks,” Mendoza said.

Residents ages 35-44 were the top responders to the survey, representing about a third of the total. Nearly 80% identified as white, about 98% spoke English at home. More than 40% of respondents had no children living in the household and more than 60% of respondents live west of River Road North.