A July 9 article in The Journal Gazette reported that WalletHub ranked Fort Wayne rather poorly (96th) among 100 cities regarding our recreational opportunities. Friends of the Parks of Allen County respectfully must disagree.
We believe we have much to celebrate in the recreational opportunities provided by our city parks. At our recent annual meeting, we offered a report on the progress made in implementing plans prepared for our heritage parks, those major parks woven into the historic neighborhoods of our community.
Available for viewing online at fortwayneparks.org, these Cultural Landscape Reports document the rich history of these places and the community's values toward keeping them integrated into contemporary living.
From my recent visits to these heritage parks, I found that there is much to celebrate in the recommended investments made in the past 18 years to restore their early beauty while adding features to increase their usefulness and attractiveness to modern users.
The reports noted heavy losses of trees in Swinney, Memorial, Foster and Lakeside parks, partly as a result of Dutch elm disease in the 1960s through '80s, and more recently from emerald ash borer. Simple neglect in replanting trees dying from old age and storm damage was also responsible. In some cases, fewer than 50% of park trees remained from their peak in the 1940s.
Friends of the Parks initiated the Great Tree Canopy Comeback 15 years ago to engage community volunteers in restoring tree cover to these parks, in accord with their historic design. In Shoaff Park and McMillen Park, trees have also been added, in accord with their reports, to further implement master plans for these later parks.
Literally thousands of new trees now grace our parks through these efforts. We are planning an additional round of planting for this fall, and have expanded the scope of this program to include removing invasive species, such as Asian honeysuckle shrubs, which choke out the native forest flora, in currently forested areas.
Community access and the ability to walk and bike were noted as common deficiencies in the heritage parks. We now have new paths and trails in Foster, Swinney, Lakeside, Memorial, McMillen and Shoaff parks, supplementing existing paths and vehicle drives converted to pedestrian use. Connecting links have been built to further integrate these parks into surrounding neighborhoods and greenway systems.
The city continues to expand bike and pedestrian opportunities all over the city, with a much-appreciated focus on connecting to our parks.
Historic pavilions in Foster and Swinney parks were noted as missing or deteriorated. Because of the Cultural Landscape Reports, a new pavilion was constructed in West Swinney Park to replicate the missing Japanese-style pavilion that once existed in East Swinney Park, where it was susceptible to flooding. The early 20th century historic architecture of Foster Park pavilions 1 and 2 has been lovingly restored. The Civilian Conservation Corps-era pavilion in the Oak Grove of Foster Park is about to receive a desperately needed restoration, in part funded by a grant through Friends of the Parks.
The walls, walks and steps in the Lakeside Park Sunken Garden have been replicated and restored to keep this beautiful bit of garden architecture alive for enthusiasts and as a setting for dozens of memorable weddings.
The ecology of the Lakeside and Swinney Park ponds has been improved with shoreline restoration and rewaterproofing.
The Cultural Landscape Reports drew the attention of local veterans' groups when Memorial Park was threatened with substantial change as a result of a proposal to develop historic landscape features into sports venues.
Not only has the park's historic landscape character once again been embraced, but the veterans raised substantial funds to fully replant the historic World War I Memorial Grove, envisioned and created by then-Park Superintendent Adolph Jaenicke.
There is much yet to be accomplished in these heritage parks, including some big-ticket items such as relocating parking lots from important landscape places, renovating the Jaenicke Garden in Swinney Park, and continuing to build paths and connections to neighborhoods.
Friends of the Parks stands ready to support these efforts and encourages the community to continue to invest in the landscape treasures envisioned a century ago by our progressively minded civic leaders.
Fort Wayne lacks the mountains and beaches of other places. What makes us an attractive city is what we choose to build ourselves.
Tom Cain is vice president of Friends of the Parks of Allen County.