Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Board President Rob Bishop reviews his choices for “promotion and marketing” before voting for his top priority for the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Department’s master plan. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Board President Rob Bishop reviews his choices for “promotion and marketing” before voting for his top priority for the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Department’s master plan. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Over 160 people have filled out the survey for the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Board’s master plan, but they’re hoping for a lot more responses, especially from outside of Warsaw.

The survey is open for submissions until January.

Sofia Gladun, Michiana Area Council of Governments community development planner, told the Board that as of their meeting Thursday, the survey was sitting at 190 responses. When the data for the initial survey report was prepared for Thursday’s meeting, there were 163 responses.

“So, when we were asking people which parks they visited inside the county and whether or not they did visit the parks inside the county, 98% of the respondents said that they do use our parks and 2% said that they didn’t,” she said.

The most popular park that was mentioned in the write-in was Winona Lake Limitless Park at 67. That was followed by Pike Lake at 35, Center Lake Park at 33, Lucerne Park at 27 and Central Park and Kelly Park tied at 21.

The top three amenities that drove them to the parks were walking paths (121), beach (76) and playground (74). The lowest was ball diamonds with six.

When asked if they go outside of the county for the express purpose of visiting parks, Gladun said, 67% of the respondents said that they do and 33% said they didn’t. The most popular parks outside of Kosciusko County were Wabash Greenway with six responses and Brown County State Park, also with six. The top three amenities that drew people to parks outside of Kosciusko County were walking paths (63), hiking trails (60) and nature preserve/open space (56).

“And that kind of same trend continued on to the next question where we asked them what was missing from the parks. They indicated almost the exact same things that they go out of the county to visit are the things that are missing in our county. So they said hiking trails (55), walking paths (44) and kayak/canoe launches (31),” Gladun reported.

She said those things are the same things the Board has been talking about so the Board appears to be on the same page as the public, which is great.

When asked what the priorities for the next five years should be for the Board, “build at least one county trail that links communities” had the most responses with 89. It was followed by “explore the feasibility of increasing public access to the county’s water resources” at 46 and “build a large-scale regional park” at 41 responses.

Another question asked what programs or services did they want to see offered through the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation System. Plant, wildlife and insect identification tied with nature walks/hiking at 21 responses. Arts, crafts and woodworking classes came in at third with 20.

If the county could only build one trail linking two communities, voters were asked where it should be. The top vote with 12 responses was Warsaw to Syracuse, followed by Winona Lake to Warsaw with nine, Winona Lake to Pierceton with five, Warsaw to Leesburg with three, Winona Lake to Syracuse at two and Warsaw to Pierceton, one.

Asked where in the county did they think has the greatest potential to be the first county park, Warsaw received seven votes, followed by Winona Lake with three. Warsaw also led as where in the county has the greatest potential to build the recreation/community center.

Board member Mike Cusick said his initial impressions of the survey was that there might be a Warsaw bias.

“So if there’s an opportunity for us to continue promoting it, get more of the county input, I think that would be helpful,” he said, though the feedback was great to have. He said he’d like to have more input from around the county on the survey before it’s finalized.

Gladun agreed and said the survey will remain open until January and encouraged all the Board members to continue to promote it.

Cusick asked if there was a good number to try to get regarding the responses. Gladun said the 500 range would be great, but Kosciusko County has had a lot of surveying done, including the Indiana Department of Transportation’s survey on U.S. 30, so they’re competing with those surveys. She said they should try to get as many as they can.

Board member Aggie Sweeney asked if there was any demographic information collected on the survey. Gladun said people were asked to provide their zip code and age groups of people in their household who utilize the parks, but that data was not included in the initial survey data presented to the Board.

Zach Dripps, MACOG deputy director, led the master plan activities for the meeting. He said at the November Board meeting they talked about their needs, what they wanted to do and accomplish. Since then, he said, Gladun and Community Development Planner Donny Ritsema worked to organize all those ideas into some goals and strategies for the Board to focus in on for Thursday’s meeting. The goals were organized into five different categories, discussed by the Board and the master plan committee, and then voted on as to what’s the highest priority by placing dots on poster boards.

The categories for the goals included parks and recreation amenities; trails and blueways connections; staffing and maintenance; and promotion and marketing.

Reviewing the Board’s and committee’s voting results, Gladun said that for promotion and marketing, the most popular item was partnering with Clearly Kosciusko and Visit Kosciusko and others to create a unified branding and marketing initiative.

For the parks and recreation amenities, “establishing a linear park system” was the most popular option, with “establishing neighborhood or pocket parks or advocating for those” a close second.

Under trails and blueways connections, the most votes were given to adding trail connections between communities inside and outside of Kosciusko County.

For staffing and maintenance, the most popular item on the board was “establishing an annual operating park board budget to adequately maintain the parks and recreation facilities.”

The next activity had the Board and committee voting on where trails, blueways and greenways connections should be.

On trail connections, receiving the most votes was a connection from Syracuse to North Webster and then to Warsaw. Also popular was a trail bridge over U.S. 30 and a connection from Mentone to Rochester and Nickleplate trail. Cusick later noted that the trail bridge over U.S. 30 was a “worthy goal,” but everyone knows that INDOT is soliciting input on how to cross U.S. 30. He said INDOT was very open to meeting with the Board about that.

On kayak and canoe launches, by far, the two most popular were Oswego Lake/Tippecanoe Lake and James Lake.

Finally, the learning initiatives and classes receiving the most votes were nature walks and hiking, followed by plant/wildlife/insect identification both land and aquatic.

Gladun said they will take all the data back to the office and analyze it. An activity will be prepared for the Board and committee for their Jan. 19 meeting where they “look at the topics that were identified as the most prioritized and flush out a few more details about them,” she said.

Dripps said in February, they will be wrapping up all the pieces into a final draft plan for the Board’s review. A public review will be in March, with the master plan being submitted to the state tentatively in April.