Donny Ritsema, senior community development planner with Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG), talks to the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Board about an upcoming survey for the master plan. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Donny Ritsema, senior community development planner with Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG), talks to the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Board about an upcoming survey for the master plan. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Work on the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Department’s master plan continued during the Parks Board meeting Thursday with the need for public input emphasized.

Donny Ritsema, senior community development planner with Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG), discussed the plans for upcoming engagement opportunities with the public. A couple weeks ago, he said, MACOG sent out an email to members of the master plan steering committee, as well as the Parks Board, that they were wanting to do a public input survey.

With the survey, Ritsema said the intent is to go a little deeper and see what kind of parks spaces and amenities does the public want and where. When the survey is released, he encouraged everyone to share it because they want all the comments.

“We’re hoping to get that survey published by the end of this month, so that would be ultimately available for 30 days or so for residents. And what I need is ... help promoting that survey to make sure it’s spread across the county,” he said.

Social and traditional media will be used to get the survey out, as well as small postcards.

Diane Quance, Warsaw Common Councilwoman who serves on the master plan steering committee, asked if the survey would be in English and Spanish.

Ritsema said they talked about that and right now it was just prepared in English and were not intending to translate it into Spanish.

Quance said when the city parks did its master plan and offered the survey in Spanish, they received a lot of different input.

Ritsema asked if she had suggestions in how best to reach the Latino community and he asked Quance to share her contacts in doing that.

Board member Aggie Sweeney asked about notifying the people of the survey who own residences in Kosciusko County but may not live here year-round.

Kosciusko County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Cori Humes said those residents probably are following local things to do and news on social media and local media. “So if there’s a way we can utilize all of those platforms ... I think they would still be able to get a decent feedback for what you would need,” she said.

Ritsema said that was probably the best avenue.

Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Larry Plummer asked if it was an online survey. Ritsema said it would be available online as well as a paper version, and he would share it with everyone once it’s available.

Parks Board President Rob Bishop asked about having three in-person meetings in the northern, central and southern parts of the county.

“At this stage, what I think would be best, is to promote the survey. Use this time to get everyone to take the input survey. Once we have the final draft plan prepared is when I think we should do more in-person ... engagement where they can comment on the actual draft plan,” Ritsema responded.

He said he would like to do another round of public engagement before the master plan is adopted.

The steering committee and Parks Board then engaged in a needs and gap analysis map activity where they talked about what amenities were needed and where in the county. Most of the conversation was about connecting greenways and blueways in the county to one another.

County Commissioner Cary Groninger said his goal with the County Parks Board and the master plan is to encourage and foster economic development. Recreational opportunities make towns more prosperous because people want to live there and when more people live there businesses follow.

Mike Cusick, Park Board member, said he learned at the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association meeting Wednesday that for greenways, one-third of the use is recreation and two-thirds are used for active transportation. While it’s probably more for recreation in Kosciusko County because the greenways aren’t all connected, “once those connections exist, two-thirds are for people getting to work.”

Georgia Tenney, steering committee member, made a plug for Pierceton.

“Pierceton Road - from the Winona trail over to Pierceton, and to our park that has a trail in the park, and it has facilities that has places they can have picnics or whatever they want - Pierceton Road is traveled a lot by bicycles and it is the most dangerous place that I can even look at. I’ve seen people walking on Pierceton Road and I think, ‘I live in Pierceton and I never walk Pierceton Road.’ It would be wonderful if it could be connected to Winona somehow or another and then we do have the facilities in our park with our quarter-of-a-mile trail that we hope to expand. But it would expand out toward Pierceton Road if it were going to expand anywhere,” she said.

Bishop said Winona Lake is building out to Stonehenge so it’s a question of who is going to connect the communities of Winona Lake and Pierceton together. “I think it’s us,” Bishop said.

Cusick said it fits their definition of communities they want to connect.

Bill Holder, steering committee, said overall, connecting different schools within a school corporation was a good idea. As an example he cited connecting Milford School by greenway to Wawasee High School or Syracuse Elementary; and Mentone Elementary to the Tippecanoe Valley High School and Middle School campus.

“If there were ways for kids from Mentone to ride their bikes 4 miles to get to  ... I know I’ve seen kids on (Ind.) 19 riding a bike, which is insane, just like riding on Pierceton Road, so I’m not saying there’s going to be a huge amount of people doing that, but it would be used for other things other times, too,” he said, adding that maybe there could be funding to do some of the work.

Cusick said, “I know Warsaw, Winona Lake have looked specifically at routes to school because some of our schools are in areas that don’t have a safe route and they don’t allow kids to ride to school. I think, at least in those two communities, they’ve identified the needs to create routes for kids, but let’s expand that to a bigger - school systems within the county that we should be thinking about connecting those as well.”

As a final activity, the steering committee and Board broke into two groups and completed an activity worksheet focusing mainly on barriers to any plans.

After the meeting, Ritsema explained the next steps in the master plan process.

“So, after we identify our needs and barriers, we have an input survey that we’ll also have residents and visitors establish what their needs are for the county. We will assemble the responses from the survey, as well as a comparison to what the steering committee/Park Board here had said. From there, we’re next going to look at addressing those barriers by creating strategies and then creating an action program that identifies strategies over the next five years in creating a park and recreation system,” he said.

The next meeting of the Parks Board is 1 p.m. Dec. 15 in the old courtroom of the county courthouse, Warsaw.