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A crumbling Cope Park addressed

New master plans presented at PRAC meeting

Posted: July 3, 2013 - 12:12am

After nearly 10 years of discussion, Cope Park may finally receive a face lift.

Skye Stekoll, a Project Manager in the CBJ Engineering Department, presented a master plan for Cope Park at a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee Tuesday.

“A lot’s changed in 10 years,” said Stekoll.

The previous master plan was set forth in 2003 and 2004 when the Parks department sought to relocate the park restrooms.

“In the end, we really only had funding for the new restrooms,” said Stekoll.

The department periodically updates its master plans for various projects as funding becomes available. Along with normal Parks and Recreation funding, about $500,000 received from the 1 percent tax increase will go toward revitalizing the park that has become a source of concern for residents.

After a decade, an overview of the park revealed rusted equipment, rock walls were crumbling, swings had been taken out, trees were in bad health and trails had become dangerous.

Through an online public survey that began in October 2011, the department received about 488 responses to general questions regarding safety concerns and the dilapidated facilities at the park.

Walking, hiking, Gold Creek River access and a fenced-in dog park were top priorities of respondents.

“In some ways, Cope Park is not a destination,” said Stekoll. “People walk through it.”

Respondents also wished for better lighting at night, saying that they didn’t feel safe in the park. Drug and alcohol use is rampant in the area, an issue made evident by a needle depository box there.

“During the day people feel relatively safe,” said Stekoll. “During the evening people don’t feel very safe.”

Increased police presence was listed as a high priority for respondents as the Juneau Police Department frequently receives calls to the area.

“There’s definitely activity in there,” said Brent Fischer, Director of Parks and Recreation.

The first draft shows an improved loop trail, a picnic area and shelter, swings, relocation of the tennis courts, a fenced-in dog park and an improved shelter for the winter months.

“This master plan is really getting us through the current funding cycle which will be completed in fiscal year 2015,” said Stekoll.

Funding will be phased through the department’s capital improvements plan

Phase one would take place this year with demolishing the old restrooms and shelter, improving drainage and grade near the park’s entrance, reconstructing failing walls and installing a gate for dogs by the river entrance.

The department hopes for completion of the project in 2016.

Of the four residents present for public comment, Greta Wade proposed a seasonal ice rink that would be more of a “grass roots rink” than a big project and offered to form a coalition with interested parties, while Capital City Fire Chief Richard Etheridge noted that their department backed the project and would help get moving with it. Etheridge also noted the park is named for a fallen firefighter.

Kerin O’Donnell, however, could not attend Tuesday night’s meeting.

Peering out her window on the south end of Mountain View Apartments off Egan Drive, O’Donnell was lying in bed, disabled by multiple sclerosis.

After being diagnosed in 2006, O’Donnell, 43, lost full mobility late last year and has since missed visiting Cope Park during the recent warm weather.

Before facing Medicaid and Medicare troubles, O’Donnell would visit Cope Park in an electric wheelchair with her dog Aleigh and her fiance, but always wished access would be improved.

“This is not an ADA friendly town,” said O’Donnell. “But to even try to get into the covered area where the picnic tables are is difficult.”

During the meeting, the PRAC agreed that a more accessible, visible entrance should be sought out, but ADA compliance was not high on any list presented at the meeting.

“We’re looking at making it fully accessible,” said Fischer when told of O’Donnell’s condition. “We want accessibility in everything we do.”

Often times, O’Donnell said, she would be verbally accosted by drivers unaware of her being in the road, the only place for a wheelchair to navigate into the park.

There are sidewalks, but none with sloped inlets.

“I’d really like to see the park accessible for everyone and have access to the park,” said O’Donnell, “something safe.”

After hearing about volunteers with Trail Mix, Inc. making Outer Point Trail accessible to those with disabilities last month, O’Donnell was surprised Cope Park hadn’t seen similar improvements.

“The place itself needs to be for everyone. It’s been brewing in my mind for years,” said O’Donnell. “It’s just one of those places in town to go and appreciate Juneau for what it is. It’s always the first place I want to go. I call it my hidden gem.”

• Contact reporter Kenneth Rosen at 523-2250 or at kenneth.rosen@juneauempire.com.

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