It all starts with a plan.

It all starts with a plan.

In this case, it's a quasi comprehensive parks plan for Neosho. A handful of citizens turned out Thursday night to the Lampo Center to give input on what they would like to see in the city's future as it relates to public parks and recreation.

New sporting facilities was the headline topic of the evening, but other suggestions were thrown out as well, including creation of neighborhood parks and developing Morse Park into a natural conservation area.

Kansas City-based Land3 Studio has been commissioned to come up with a needs assessment study on what Neosho is lacking or could do better with its parks, compared to both peer communities and the wants of the citizens. Land3 will ultimately present a report with its recommendations. That report will be the starting basis of development of a parks comprehensive plan that will enable the city to seek outside funding to act on identified needs. The aim is for such a plan to be implemented by this spring.

In the short term, that means grants for things like playground equipment. Long term, it could possibly be the start of something much bigger, officials indicate, such as funding to build a multi-ballfield sports complex, something that has been discussed by the city council in the past.

"There are [funding] initiatives based on the idea that they would like to get everybody on a certain standard," said Bob Bushyhead, with Land3 Studio. "What's important for specifically those types of initiatives is that you have a plan. If you have a vision, the best thing to do is some up with a plan. Whatever it is, you're not going to be able to do it, or should do it, without a plan to take to the state, or to

the voters, or to partners, or whomever, and say 'this is our plan, how do you fit into that?'"

Bushyhead noted the dynamics of local recreation has changed and sports have now become regional. As people travel some distances for games and tournaments, they see what other communities offer in way of sporting facilities, and that translates into an expectation, he said. People begin to question why their own community doesn't have what they saw and experienced elsewhere, Bushyhead said. He also said that the number of people now using Neosho's sports facilities "probably far exceeds your capabilities," and called that a good thing as it means there is a growth trend.

Citing a number of different standards for this part of the country, Bushyhead estimated that by those baselines Neosho should probably have at least 10 baseball and softball fields, according to its population, which he said goes beyond the city limit sign.

"Some of the things we look at are really standards and guidelines so you can measure yourself as to how you fit into that," Bushyhead said. "Do you want to exceed those guidelines, and give people a reason to choose to live here over other places? That's something you'll have to decide."

He said other places in the region, such as Northwest Arkansas, Joplin and Nevada, are expanding their own sporting facilities.

"Those kinds of things are happening and I think there are some opportunities for Neosho to fit into that," Bushyhead said.

Angie Leach, president of the Neosho Little League board, noted that a new sports complex would mean being able to host district and state Little League tournaments, and that it would be a big draw for Neosho.

"This would be huge for Little League and for our area and I think the want for it is there," Leach said. "This area wants this."

Neosho Parks and Recreation Director John Jordon said that when Little League isn't using the ballfields, other sporting events could be hosted there as well.

Morse Park, where the city's ballfields are currently located, has some serious issues, not least of which is the fact it is in a floodplain, Bushyhead noted. Not only do heavy rains routinely wash out the parking lot and damage the fields, but the floodplain also limits what kind of facilities can be built there, he said. Also, the restrooms at Morse Park are on a septic tank, as sewer lines cannot cross Hickory Creek without creating environmental issues. A septic tank isn't conducive to expansion of the facilities there, even if the park wasn't hemmed in and cramped between a high wooded ridge and the creek as it is.

Another problem, Bushyhead said, is that Morse Park is hard for people to find and is just not very accessible.
"I would advise against making investments in Morse Park," Bushyhead stated.

He said that wherever a sports complex might be located, it important that it have close access to U.S. Highway 71.
He also said it is important that park programs also be multi-generational, and include a healthy investment in activities such as soccer and things like playground equipment, which he said should be replaced every seven to 10 years.

"It's important that as we invest we appear to be well-rounded," Bushyhead said. "Recreational play and activities are part of a community's identification. It's important to have a very balanced approach. Look at parks and recreation in a balanced way so that when you spend your money on programs, you're serving a broad range of the community, not just special interests."

Neosho resident Mike Mitchell said that updated sports facilities would be a great thing for older kids, but also suggested creation of neighborhood parks for families with younger children, such as what he saw when he was living in Kansas. He said there is nowhere on the west and south sides of town where families may go with their toddlers.

"In this parks plan process, I would like to see community parks in the middle of residential areas for people to take their three or four year olds," Mitchell said. "Big Spring Park is great, but it's a little far to go sometimes to take the little ones."

Local resident Danny Boggs recommended that, given the issues with keeping and building more ballfields at Morse Park, the park be converted into a nature area, complete with hiking trails.

"All the ballfields are just an interruption between that creek and that hillside," Boggs said. "There could be trails all through there. Morse Park isn't in anybody's neighborhood. It's not easy to get there. It's hard to find. And it's never going to be a regional destination for sporting events. But, if I had my vision for parks in Neosho, if that area became emphasized for what's natural there, and that were capitalized upon, and there was somewhere else where we had better sports facilities that could become a regional draw, and then to have these neighborhood parks here and there, that would really set up Neosho ideally from a parks perspective."

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Future public input meetings regarding the parks needs assessment study are planned.