TWM Contributor: Justin Venvertloh, PE

Public park spaces and facilities serve an essential role in our communities by providing a place for families and friends to gather together, enjoy nature, and also contribute to the environment by preserving and conserving natural resources and wildlife habitats. But how does a park get built and what is required in the engineering design process? Justin explains the Parks and Recreation (P&R) process and how TWM handles these kinds of design projects.

What steps are involved in the typical planning process or general sequence of events when beginning a P&R project?

The typical planning process for a new park or a park renovation includes a needs analysis, public input on the types of amenities desired for the park, and an inventory of existing park system features. Some of the typical steps include:

  • Feasibility Study | There is a tremendous amount of time and effort that goes into planning for a park project and one of the major items is the feasibility study. During a feasibility study TWM provides a broad array of services to ensure the project will be successful. We review the site for floodplain encroachments, make submittals to agencies to clear the site for endangered species, wetlands, and archaeological signoff, and provide cost estimating to ensure the project can be built within the specified budget or to determine a budget for grant applications and fundraising.
  • Surveying | Land surveying services are needed at the inception of the project to ensure the design process goes smoothly. It’s important to provide an accurate depiction of existing topography and features of the site using the latest surveying technologies. In many cases, future or existing park areas contain rough terrain, numerous facilities, and other encumbrances, which require the use of mobile and/or aerial LiDAR. LiDAR technology provides the safest, accurate, and most cost-effective method to collect the data needed for design.
  • Design Process (conceptual master plan, transportation, infrastructure, etc.) | The planning and design process is one of the most important factors in the development of a new park and recreational facility. The planning stage includes public input, coordination with the owner, and a facilities needs assessment. The next step is to ensure all results of the needs assessment are incorporated into the overall development, accounting for any lack of facilities encountered in the existing parks inventory when compared to projected future demand. Transportation planning also plays a major role in any successful park project. It’s crucial to determine if there’s adequate access to the park by multiple modes of transportation such as walking and biking to and from the park and to plan for enough parking and comfort stations to serve the park users.
  • Permitting Process | A wide array of permits are required for a typical park project. These include a submittal to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the State Historic Preservation Officer to clear the site of endangered species, wetlands and cultural resources, and land disturbance permitting. If a lake or streams are involved, it could include a 404 permit through the United States Army Corps of Engineers and a dam classification and permitting through the DNR Office of Water Resources in the case of a water impoundment situation.
  • Construction | This phase ensures the project is being constructed to the approved plans and specifications. Civil engineers are tasked with being the eyes and ears of the client on-site. TWM provides a wide array of construction phase services to handle this portion of a parks and recreation project. Our team verifies in place quantities, processes pay requests, completes a final punch list with the owner and contractor, and processes final closeout documentation.

How does aesthetic value and conservation/natural resources affect the master plan design?
While completing a master plan for a park project, it’s key to conserve and incorporate as many of the natural existing land features as possible. This includes avoiding any major impacts to wooded areas and existing lakes and streams while still incorporating them into the design to create an environmental and ecological education experience. Examples of facilities that may create such an experience include walking / hiking trails through wooded and other natural areas along with use of raised walking platforms bringing the user as close as possible to certain natural features and habitats.

What are the steps to getting funding or grants in place?
There are many sources utilized to fund park projects and can include private donations, fundraising by the community, state and local sources such as DNR OSLAD grants, MEPRD grants, and for smaller projects some Counties have funding sources for park upgrades / enhancements.

Is it difficult to get the public involved and what are the ways to positively involve residents’ input?
It is important to employ a variety of methods of stakeholder engagement to broaden the reach to as many members as possible. We employ traditional methods including focus groups, public information meetings, and presentations to various units within local governments. We have also had success using non-traditional methods including information and feedback booths at local carnivals or fairs, online surveys, and regular postings through various social media platforms.

How does TWM successfully shepherd the goals of a project when alternative ideas/viewpoints are competing for approval?
Planning and engagement are key factors. Ideally, we gather information and opinions early in the process, and try to incorporate as many of these thoughts into the master plan as possible. It’s very important to be open-minded and practice good listening skills to ensure the needs of all stakeholders are met. We frequently act as mediators in helping all parties involved come to terms with different viewpoints, ideally through a mutual agreement as to the final shape of the project features.

What are some environmental concerns that need to be addressed?
With any development project there are always concerns with regard to the potential environmental impacts. Sensitive areas are identified early and avoided where possible. Natural features are also respected by avoidance when warranted and with minimized intrusion when trying to create an educational experience. There are many features that can be incorporated into the design to minimize impacts, such as pervious pavement, rain gardens, and bioswales for stormwater runoff. Other options include the incorporation of solar panels into the design to help offset the energy consumption of park facilities, employment of energy-efficient lighting and appliances, low-use or waterless plumbing fixtures, as well as utilizing native and drought-tolerant landscaping and trees.

When designing a successful parks and recreation project, thoughtful planning, design, and implementation are critical components that need to be addressed throughout the process. The land development experts at TWM use their technical expertise and emphasize a collaborative approach to transform park projects from a vision into reality!

To learn more about parks and recreation engineering, visit our Land Development page.