Community input sought for planning of Southern ParkDec 30, 2020 02:43PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Your input is being sought to plan the features of New Castle County’s 249th park. Southern Park will be created on county-owned land north of Middletown, at 1275 Shallcross Lake Road, on the east side of the road, a half-mile north of Marl Pit Road and just south of the Drawyers Creek subdivision.
An online survey will run through May on www.surveymonkey.com/r/southernpark. And the county has scheduled two more public meetings to present continuing refinements to the master plan, hopefully arriving by this fall at a final concept, a county spokesman said.
“We have a blank … palette,” said Kendall Summer, the county’s parks manager. “We can make it whatever we want it to be, and we hope to engage the public to shape that or design our picture.”
“Parks are the soul of communities,” said David Carter, a county councilman who also served on the county parks task force that recommended the site. Parks “really can bring so many people together in a common area, to rub elbows, to get to know each other, to begin to build trust and community capital.”
“The county is home to some fantastic parks – 248 of them,” said County Executive Matt Meyer. “And they’re really vital assets for our community, for recreation, for relaxation, for enjoying nature, of course for health and also something we don’t talk about a lot: for home values. When you have a park in your neighborhood, it increases your home value, and if you don’t have a park in your neighborhood, it certainly makes a lot fewer people want to live there. So it’s really important as we develop out and build out this part of the county we do so with open space, farmland preservation and parks in mind.”
Meyer said that 30,000 people live within five miles of the site and area population is projected to grow by another 20,000 residents in coming years.
Southern Park will initially cover 40 to 50 acres of farmland. “However, the master plan will look at all 100 acres, as well as potential trail and pathway connections to surrounding county-owned lands, for future consideration,” said county spokesman Brian Cunningham.
Southern Park is considered a district park, like Talley Day Park and Brandywine Springs Park, he said, as contrasted to the larger and more intensely used regional parks, like Glasgow Park.
New Castle County south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal has a mix of green space, according to a map in the parks task force’s final report. The largest chunks are federal, state and municipal parks and conservation areas. The county runs several small neighborhood parks and one regional park, Wiggins Mill, south of Middletown. Wiggins Mill covers 190 acres, with most of it leased for farming.
The task force made 15 recommendations, with Southern Park the first. The fourth, Meyer said, was consolidating park maintenance and planning, a move made just before the park was announced.
Its recommendations to improve parks below the canal include adding fields for the MOT Little League and Delaware Union Soccer, agricultural pavilions and parking at Wiggins Mill; continuing work with Middletown on a sports complex; and working with the developers of Whitehall and the Scott Run Business Park to create parks. Other recommendations include passive recreation near Port Penn, upgrades to Back Creek Park on Churchtown Road and discussions with residents of Bayberry.
In early feedback through six public meetings and 600 comments from residents, “by far, biking and hiking trails are high,” said parks task force chair Ed O’Donnell, a county land use department retiree. Also popular: playgrounds, athletic fields, open space, natural features and picnic areas, he said.
In announcing the site selection, Meyer said he didn’t “dictate” what it will include, but he said “I have been shopping for a pickleball racquet.”
“The most resounding call was for pickleball. Seriously. We heard it in every meeting,” said Middletown Councilman Aaron Blythe, who represented the town on the task force.
“People like Glasgow Park, with its sledding hill and farmers market and are looking to replicate that here,” he said, adding that playground swings and athletics fields are also popular suggestions. One fan of athletic fields – specifically for baseball – is Blythe’s son Chase, an 11-year-old player in the MOT Little League and Delaware Diamond Kings travel team.
The Survey Monkey survey, conducted by master plan consultant Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, had three key questions about what Southern Park might include, with some repetition.
It asked about seven activities and facilities: walking/hiking, biking, birdwatching, dog walking, athletic fields for organized sports, community gardening and entertainment areas, such as an amphitheater.
It asked about 24 amenities: open lawn play areas, pickleball courts, a cricket pitch, soccer fields, baseball fields, softball fields, tot lots, a nature-based playground, walking or jogging trailers, fitness stations, recreational biking trails, a bike pump track, trail connections to regional parks and destinations, disc golf course, a dog park, an outdoor classroom, Wi-Fi access, a community garden area, an amphitheater, restrooms, pavilions, picnic tables and picnic groves, outdoor grills and an inclusive playground.
And it asked about nine ecologically driven features: environmental interpretation (for example, wetlands, watersheds, plants, nature studying and birdwatching), birdwatching blinds and stations, rainwater cisterns, passive or active solar systems for buildings, composting toilets, gray water processing for buildings, wind trees and small windmills, eco-restoration plantings (such as wildflower meadows and invasive species removal) and demonstration areas for best practices in stormwater management (such as a rain garden, vegetated swale and porous paving).
All three questions invited survey participants to suggest other qualities that interest them.
Plans for the park include natural features and buffers to help improve water quality of a wellhead on one corner, a water farm used to treat wastewater and a tributary of Appoquinimink Creek. “Maybe do some reforestation,” Sommers said.
Meyer and State Sen. Stephanie Hansen, a Middletown resident, want only native species to be used for landscaping. “Building a substantial new park with recreational amenities for the growing MOT area is a really big deal,” she said.
County officials have repeated their desire to be fiscally prudent to create the park.
The process continues with finishing and approving a master plan. After that, various county units and state agencies need to give their approvals, which Cunningham said could take at least a year, perhaps more. “Planning, designing and building a park with active recreational programming is akin to building a major subdivision or development,” he said. “Many of the same complexities are afoot, and all the same design/construction standards are required to be met. After all agency approvals are obtained, construction on some or all of the desired components of the park will begin. This may be a phased approach, depending on budgets.”
In choosing the site for the new park, Meyer said county officials looked at multiple tracts, including land left over from Delaware Department of Transportation U.S. 301 project and privately owned parcels. “Some of them we may have future announcements on,” he said.
“This is a very exciting time for southern New Castle County,” said County Council member Bill Bell, whose district includes the site. “For many years this area has been underserved by county services. This new park also builds on the new county library being constructed in Middletown and the upgraded county paramedic station that is being put out to bid.” Those facilities are two miles away.
The Middletown area may be underserved by county parks, but Middletown itself runs multiple parks and recreational areas.
The biggest is Charles E. Price Memorial Park, which covers 100 acres on Levels Road. It features walking trails, nine pavilions, an eight-acre catch and release fishing pond, eight acres for a dog park, playgrounds and open fields for playing pick-up games of any kind.
Silver Lake Park, on East Cochran Street, features a pool run by the Middletown YMCA, skateboarding, basketball and tennis courts, a track, pavilions, ball fields and soccer fields.
Doc Levinson Park, on Doc Levinson Drive, has basketball courts, a tennis court, skateboarding, a pavilion, a playground and walking trails. The Middletown Nature Area covers 65 acres of South Broad Street, with a walking trail. Middletown Village Park on Fields Way has soccer fields.