Vail Daily column: The Eagle River Park ain’t all sunshine and rainbows | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: The Eagle River Park ain’t all sunshine and rainbows

Matt Farrar
Valley Voices

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

The recent column on the Eagle River Park (“Eagle River Park is rolling along right on course,” Sunday, July 9) would lead us all to believe that everything is going swimmingly with the $5.9 million project. Having played a key role in making this project happen, I wish things were as portrayed. However, I would argue they are not, and here’s why:

• Limited community engagement: Having participated in the recent Eagle River Park design process, I would argue that the proposed park design is representative of input from a small contingent of the community. I observed little participation from groups such as local youth and the Hispanic community. Believing that this project needs engagement from the broad community to be successful, it is unfortunate to have these groups underrepresented in the park design.

• No strategy for grant funding: When efforts were underway to pass the 0.5 percent sales tax increase for the project, local elected officials made statements that revenue generated by the tax increase would be leveraged to obtain maximum grant funding for the park. However, more than a year after the sales tax increase was approved, a strategy for grant funding has yet to be shared with the public.

• Expeditious phasing that limits opportunities to apply for grants: Phase I, construction of in-stream improvements, is slated to begin in November (town of Eagle Board Packet, p. 20, 2017). Once that work wraps up in March, the plan is to move directly into Phase II, construction of the riverside park (town of Eagle Board Packet, p. 20, 2017). This approach will result in the expenditure of roughly $3.7 million (town of Eagle Board Packet, p. 20, 2017) to $4.7 million of the $5.9 million raised for the project. While this is great from a get ’er done standpoint, it limits opportunities for grant funding.

Many of the grants that this project is eligible for (ex. Great Outdoors Colorado) are on annual cycles. This necessitates careful timing of project construction in order to align construction phases with available grants. Given the annual cycles of these grants, expeditious park construction means fewer opportunities to apply for, and potentially acquire, grant funding.

It is my understanding that the town developed the current phasing plan under the assumption that the community wants the entirety of the Eagle River Park to be built now. While this sentiment may be true, I don’t believe that the residents of Eagle have actually been asked to weigh in on project phasing. Consequently, it appears that the town is moving forward with a phasing plan that could limit grant opportunities without vetting the approach with the taxpayers.

• Park design based in speculation: Having been a quasi-professional freestyle kayaker for the past two decades, I have had the unique opportunity to observe and use many of Colorado’s river parks. I would argue that the premier river parks in the state (ex. Salida and Buena Vista) are those that have phased amenities in, as those communities have observed and better understood how different user groups use the parks. This learned approach is similar to an approach employed on some college campuses where “desire paths” are allowed to emerge in open spaces before paved trails are built.

The proposed design for the Eagle River Park is based entirely on speculation of how folks will use the park. If plans to construct much of the park in the coming months continue to move forward, then opportunities for amenities to be phased in based on actual use mostly go away. So, upon completion of the park next summer or fall, we may find ourselves wishing that certain amenities were situated differently or that there were different amenities all together. If the goal were to truly create a “world-class” river park, then I would strongly urge revisiting the approach to the design and construction of the park.

In closing, I offer a few ideas to the town for how to improve the process going forward: 1. Conduct targeted outreach to ensure that underrepresented groups have opportunities to provide input on the Eagle River Park design; 2. Provide opportunities for the community to weigh in on how to phase the project before moving forward with construction; and 3. Develop and share with the public a plan for aligning construction phases with grant opportunities.

Matt Farrar is the former assistant town planner for the town of Eagle. The town of Eagle River Corridor Plan and 0.5 percent sales tax increase were both approved during Farrar’s tenure with the town. He served as the project manager for the Eagle River Park project through the end of July 2016.