Wilderness Park Subarea Strategic Plan

Introduction

Wilderness Park lies along the floodplain of Salt Creek from about Van Dorn Street south to Saltillo Road. It was created through an agreement between the City of Lincoln, Lancaster County and what was at the time called the Salt Valley Watershed District and is now the Lower Platte South Natural Resource District.  The park land lies on the west side of the City of Lincoln and is primarily outside of the City limits. The property is owned by Lancaster County but is maintained and managed by the City of Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department through an interlocal agreement.

Over the years there have been several planning efforts both to plan, program and set up appropriate maintenance for Wilderness Park. Most recently, flood damage in 2015 again raised concerns regarding how trails and bridges are maintained.  Wilderness Park is unique among the City’s park resources in

that it is primarily maintained in a “wild” state with minimal structural improvement. Budget and staffing reductions over the years have made it more challenging to maintain the park. In years when moisture is high, vegetation can grow quickly and reduce the ability to get machinery and maintenance equipment into the park, adding another layer of difficulty.

The Committee

In the 1990s a goal was set to develop a long term plan for Wilderness Park. Increased concern for the ecology of the park, decreased budgets for maintenance and proposed development near the park all raised the public awareness and concern for the future of Wilderness Park. This resulted in several different studies that were brought together in 1999 with the Wilderness Park Subarea Plan. Professor Kip Hulvershorn of the University of Nebraska integrated multiple studies and worked with stakeholder groups to develop the subarea plan and maintenance recommendations which were adopted in 2000.

One of the recommendations of the subarea plan was the establishment of an advisory group to give input on maintenance and ecological activities in the park. A committee including public and private organizations such as the Natural Resources District, Friends of Wilderness Park, the Great Plains Trails Network, the Sierra Club, and others met annually and primarily discussed the ecology of the park and projects to help improve the natural community and manage invasive vegetation. In the past 5 to 10 years, this group has met infrequently and not at all since 2013.

With the flooding in 2015, and the resulting impacts to the park, there was renewed interest in engaging a similar group. Parks reached out to 14 different stakeholder organizations and requested a total of 16 representatives.  15 representatives accepted the invitation.

  • Parks and Rec Advisory Board Susan Deitchler
  • Community Forestry Advisory Board Andy Campbell
  • Pedestrian Bicycle Advisory Committee Rick Dockhorn
  • County Ecological Advisory Committee, Judi Cook
  • Friends of Wilderness Park, Dan King, Bob Henrickson
  • Lower Platte South NRD, Dan Schulz
  • Wachiska  Audubon  Tim  Knott Sierra Club, Kendall Weyers
  •  Mayor’s Environmental Task ForceDan Schlitt
  • Trails  Have  Our  Respect  –  Matt  Gersib 
  • Great  Plains  Trails  Network  Chris  Heinrich
  • Run    for    the    Bridges    Rosina    Paolini
  • Lincoln Track Club Joeth Zucco
  • Nebraska Horse Trails Committee Tanya Lynch

Prior to the meetings, a community survey with questions pulled from a previous Wilderness Park survey (1999) was promoted via social media and media release.  There were 706 participants in the survey. This survey was used to help guide the discussion of the committee members.

The committee met four times over the period of 3 months. The first and last meetings included all participants, but the other two meetings were split into two topic areas: Trails and Facilities or Ecosystems. Each participant was separated into these topic areas according to the group they represented, however, participants that chose to attend both topic meetings were allowed to do so.

Results

The committee was informed of several projects in the Wilderness Park vicinity and the potential impacts to the park. Opportunities for park improvements and mitigation projects associated with these projects were discussed. The committee was given the opportunity to bring forward any projects or policies that they felt would improve the park as well. The Trails & Facilities sub-committee discussed bridge repair and replacement, parking lot improvements, signage and surface issues. The concept of multi-use trails and unidirectional bike trails was also discussed.  The Ecosystems subcommittee discussed control of invasive species, habitat development, and prioritization strategies for staff and volunteer efforts.

Further Discussion Needed

Several items were identified for further staff and/or community discussion. Some of these will require significant study and community input. Among these are:  Wider community discussion of the concept of shared use trails within the park; the desire for single track cycling facilities in the system; a comprehensive sign package for Wilderness Park; encroaching vegetation on trails making mowing difficult to impossible; and the potential vacation of a portion of W. Calvert and 1st Streets. The Parks Department will continue to work on each of these topics into the future.

Next Steps

The recommendations of the committee will be used to set policy for the department, develop work plans for staff, items for inclusion in the 10-Year Infrastructure Plan, and volunteer events over the next year. Annual meetings of this group or similar groups will continue to inform the department on care of the park.

The items for further discussion identified in this process will be addressed over the next year. Some of these items will require staff discussions and work with other departments. Others will require input from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Pedestrian Bicycle Advisory Board and other appointed boards.  Still other items will require further input from the public in the form of surveys and outreach to organizations.

Feel free to post questions and comments on the Friends of Wilderness Park Facebook page, send us an email, or sign-up here to get involved as a volunteer.

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