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Pocatello dreaming big about future of Ross Park

February 2, 2019 GMT

POCATELLO -- In the future, crowds may gather to watch surfers take on a simulated wave at the Ross Park Aquatic Complex and adrenaline junkies may zoom down a zip line through Ross Park.

A city survey to establish priorities for a 20-year Ross Park comprehensive plan also proposes several other creative additions to the popular recreation area, such as: a new band shell, an outdoor roller hockey rink, pickleball courts, a railroad museum, an expanded skate park, new rock climbing areas, a BMX park and sand volleyball courts.

Furthermore, the survey seeks to gauge the public’s interest in a couple of major infrastructural upgrades within the park -- relocating South Second Avenue west along the railroad tracks and building new roadways to connect Lower Ross Park, Upper Ross Park, South Fourth Avenue and South Fifth Avenue.

Pocatello Parks and Recreation Director John Banks and Mayor Brian Blad presented the city’s vision for Ross Park Tuesday night during a quarterly town hall meeting at City Hall.

Their survey takes about five minutes to complete and includes two pages, with the first page devoted to Ross Park and the second page covering general city parks and recreation issues.

The survey is available at http://pocatello.seemlessdocs.com/f/PRrossparksurvey. General information about the comprehensive plan is also available at https://www.pocatello.us. The survey will remain open through May 15.

Banks said the city plans to host one more public meeting on the plan in mid or late March. The 11-member Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will evaluate the data, and he hopes to have an architect’s rendering and proposed plan ready for the City Council’s consideration by August.

“Based on the enthusiasm and good questions from last night, I sensed a lot of positive feeling and excitement about this plan,” Banks said Wednesday morning.

Banks said the previous Parks and Recreation director started the process of creating the first comprehensive plan for Ross Park in 2008, using a steering committee of key stakeholders. They released a conceptual plan in 2013.

“I felt it was necessary to bring this forward again and have public input opportunities and have the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board serve as the steering committee this time around,” Banks said.

Some projects, such as building roads to connect parts of the park and moving South Second to provide more space for park development and improve safety, could take years to complete, Banks said. He said safety concerns about South Second Avenue bisecting the park may no longer be as pressing, given that the once busy thoroughfare has been closed at Cheyenne Avenue and traffic volumes are reduced.

The city is already prepared to move ahead with some other projects. For example, the city received its final architect and mechanical plans Wednesday to build a new concession stand at the Aquatic Complex. Banks said the city has already approved funding for the project, which should be started within a week and completed in time for the 2019 swimming season. It will include grills, fryers and a hood system, enabling the city’s concessions contractor, Ross Park Drive-in, to prepare its full restaurant menu at the water park.

It’s likely the facility’s water slide will have to be replaced within the next five years, and Banks is seeking the public’s input on if the city should replace it with one or more slides.

At Zoo Idaho, the city has already commenced work on a new wetland area and plans to plant the vegetation there next spring. Banks said the Zoological Society has committed to funding a new log cabin entrance building, which will house restrooms, a gift shop and space for organizations to rent.

Another project that could be done sooner rather than later is moving the band shell, where the municipal band performs Sunday evening summer concerts, to the current location of the city’s skate park. Banks said the skate park would be moved to the band shell area, where it could be expanded.

Banks said the city is working with the Portneuf Greenway Foundation on proposed paved trails to connect areas of the park, and the city plans to hire two part-time staff members who will be devoted exclusively to Greenway trail maintenance.

Banks said most of the proposals are preliminary. Cost estimates must still be made, and possible funding sources must be identified, he said.

Banks said his department covers 65 to 70 percent of its annual operating budget with user fees.

“That’s a very good number,” he said. “It’s significantly better than the national average.”