A Heroic Plan

On November 15, 2008, the Carmichael Recreation and Park District in California dedicated Patriots Park. To some, it was simply a new neighborhood park with mature oak trees, a historic almond orchard, a large play area, butterfly garden, half-court basketball court, open lawn areas and a dedicated area for remembering fallen soldiers and community leaders. But it was an idea that took nearly 30 years to come to the surface.

In 1984, a district-wide parks master plan provided direction to develop the park and four other sites. Yet 23 years later, there was no park--only vacant land that was decaying and being abused by vandals.

Then in 2006, the district hired a new park administrator on a contractual basis. Jack Harrison had retired from the California State Parks Department in 2000 and subsequently served as Interim Director for Marin County, Solano County, Merced and Lodi. He was the tree superintendent for the city of Sacramento from 2004 to 2006. He was also a resident of Carmichael. He had several ideas related to park development and decided to explore them in his own backyard.

Believing that the five park sites all could be developed in 2006, he called for a new master plan, which included renovating existing parks and developing the five sites. Tired of seeing a sign that read “Future Park Site” for nearly 30 years, the community pushed for a new park. Harrison finally had the local support and the political will to move forward with the project. Now all he needed was $1 million. With no more than $300,000 to spend, he needed to devise a plan and a way to obtain the additional $1 million.

Divvying Up The Land

Harrison’s plan was almost heresy. He proposed selling off part of the park land to adjacent landowners for funding. It was a new concept, but in trying financial times, he felt it was worth the effort. At the four other park sites, neighbors resisted the proposal because they did not want new housing developments; however, residents around Patriots Park agreed to the deal.

Harrison negotiated a land sale of 2.5 acres of the 6.2-acre park parcel to a developer who owned adjacent land. The agreed upon price was $1 million. That left 3.7 acres for the park. Harrison then retained Beals Alliance to design the park. After nearly six months of community input in 2007, the master plan was completed, and it was time for the real work to begin. Well … not quite.

Fizzling Without Funding

Since Carmichael Recreation and Park District is a Dependent District, it had to rely on the county to develop the park. In addition, all governing agency requirements had to be met before proceeding with the project, which meant more money. Although historic trees were already identified and would be preserved, it was only the beginning. For example, the park frontage along Palm Avenue was not landscaped because the property was undeveloped. To improve the section of street adjacent to the park, it would cost an additional $150,000 and separate permits through the county. The water purveyor required a separate service to the adjacent housing development, which, coincidentally, went through the park--another $40,000 and a separate permit process. Then the county insisted that its agency be in charge of development--adding another $200,000. And since a consultant’s fees are typically 10 percent, that was another $100,000. In total, the three items added almost another $500,000 to the park cost. So now what?

The street section was not negotiable, and neither was the water purveyor, but the county fees--since the district and consultant provided the services--could be reduced substantially. That still left about $300,000 that needed to be accounted for. In the end, the board stepped up and found the funds. In addition, because of the economy, bids came in below the consultant’s estimate.

A Welcome Addition

Two separate dedication ceremonies--one for the children’s play area and the other for the Patriots Wall of Honor--welcomed the park into the community. The Wall of Honor--a bench-height stone wall with a concrete cap-- honors those Carmichael residents who lived in the community at one time and died serving their country (Carmichael is not a city, but rather an unincorporated area of Sacramento County.) Seven heroes were recognized at the opening in 2008, and four names were added in 2009. Additional names (none to date) will be added in November.

Among the amenities of the park is a garden, a small area about 10 feet by 20 feet, filled with flowering plants that attract butterflies. The idea for the space was to provide a place of peace and tranquility for residents.

The dream became a reality due to the diligence and combined community effort. Patriots Park serves the community, and has become the model for the other four park sites. The second park opened in July, thanks to the nearly $200,000 that residents raised in lieu of selling land. The other three park sites have started their own processes.

Patriots Park was acknowledged by the California Parks and Recreation Society District 2 with the 2009 Facility Design & Park Planning Award.

William J. Beals, III is president and CEO of Beals Alliance in Folsom, Calif. For more information, visit www.bealsalliance.com.