Town may need 18 new parks by '20
Explorer file photo, Programs such as monthly summer theater in the park, begun at Crossroads at Silverbell Park this summer, are in part a response by the Town of Marana to a public call for more cultural recreation.

If Marana continues to grow, it will need 18 new parks by the year 2020, parks and recreation director Tom Ellis told the Marana Town Council on July 27.

Those would include 10 neighborhood parks, six community parks, one district park similar to the new Crossroads at Silverbell Park, and a regional park, all of them more evenly distributed through the community, Ellis said. "That's a lot of parks," he acknowledged.

Ellis provided an overview of the town's parks and recreation comprehensive master plan, a 300-page document in the works since June 2008 and now headed for finalization.

Marana has eight public parks and 36 private neighborhood parks. Neighborhood parks, usually less than 10 acres, are typically built within housing developments. Often, developers provide acreage for neighborhood parks.

A regional park is the largest. "The good news, we've already got 500 acres" off Avra Valley Road, where a regional park could proceed on Bureau of Reclamation ground near the Central Arizona Project canal, Ellis said. "We don't have to purchase it."

To acquire acreage needed to meet expected park needs, Marana could spend from $2.7 million to $5.4 million on land, beside further spending for facilities. "It's still a lot of money," Ellis said.

Since 2008, "a lot of the things you've seen parks and creation and the staff do" have been learned from the master plan process, Ellis said. The document includes input from a number of public avenues, including a random telephone survey of 400 residents. "It's important to the department the plan represents what our citizenry … thought," Ellis said.

The community has asked for more public theater, music and art, and Marana has attempted to respond. "The public seems very satisfied with what we've done," he said.

While the plan has been created, Marana has experienced a decline in sales tax revenue, in home construction and related impact fee revenue, and a slowdown in its population growth. Town government has curtailed some of its recreation programming.

"Recreation programs are very staff-intensive," and that "poses the potential for revenue loss," Ellis said. The plan identifies a range of options to decrease programming costs to the town while enhancing recreation offerings.

Authors compared Marana's parks and recreational amenities to three benchmark communities — Colorado Springs, Colo., in particular for its outdoor recreation; Rio Rancho, N.M., similar to Marana in that it is a growing community northwest of a major city, in this case Albuquerque; and Scottsdale, with its combination of recreation programming and Western heritage.

Marana's strengths include its ecological, human and sustainable assets, Ellis said. The town has open space and viewsheds with the Tortolita and Tucson mountain ranges, the Ironwood Forest National Monument and Saguaro National Park West at its doorsteps. It can become "a destination place" for people who want to experience the Sonoran Desert.

Marana also has internal parks, trails, facilities, programming and special events. Interconnectivity of trails is a special emphasis; plan authors suggest Marana try to create "a seamless trail network throughout the town." Special events "should be carefully examined" in how they fulfill the department's mission, according to an executive summary of the document.

The plan is being posted online, with public review and comment welcome. Ellis wants to bring it back to the council in October with any changes, and ask for final adoption.

"I know it's been a long, tedious, difficult process for you," Councilwoman Patti Comerford said. "This shows the hours and hours and hours that's been put into it."

It is the work of town staff as well as the volunteer parks and recreation citizen advisory commission. "We've got a super group," Ellis said, and he introduced advisory commission members in the audience. They were applauded.

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