Smiths Falls to create long-term plan for parks, public input wanted

The Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre is one of the most visible recreational assets in town, but these assets also include many parks and trails. The town is in the process of developing its first long-term plan to guide parks and recreation decision-making.
Posted on: April 21, 2017

Chris Must

Smiths Falls’ largest park received the lion’s share of discussion at an April 20 open house held to gather public input into a five-year plan for the town’s parks and recreation facilities.

The open house held in the town council chambers attracted eight participants, some of whom shared recommendations for improvements to Lower Reach Park.

“That park has played a big role in our lives,” said Rick Gilfillen. However, he added, there have been few improvements to the park since soccer fields were added. As well, he said, there is too much vehicle traffic allowed.

“We’re the only park that I know of that allows cars to park on the grass,” said Gilfillen.

“We don’t allow it either,” replied Smiths Falls Director of Community Services Art Manhire. People who bring cars into the park could theoretically be fined.

Several participants agreed that the park could benefit from having a more clearly-defined parking area.

John Gray, representing the Kinsmen Club, said his club, which built a pavilion at Lower Reach, would like to find a way to pave the parking area beside that pavilion. The entrance to Lower Reach, he said, “Is the worst entrance to any park I’ve ever seen.”

Gray said the Kinsmen chose to build their pavilion at Lower Reach in hopes it could serve large events held there. “I think Lower Reach Park is designed okay except for the parking,” he added.

Town Senior Planner Niki Dwyer, who is leading the process of developing the five-year parks and recreation plan, commented that identifying partnerships with local organizations like the Kinsmen would be an important part of that process.

Manhire said town staff began the process of putting together the plan two months ago, recognizing that the town had never had such a plan before. “We’re being asked to make decisions about our infrastructure and we don’t really have a plan to guide that,” he said.

The process began with taking an inventory of recreational assets in Smiths Falls which, said Manhire, include not only physical assets but partnerships with the community. The process is continuing with the gathering of people’s perceptions about these assets and how best to use them, and should be completed by the end of June.

The completed plan will help guide decision-making about a number of issues  including the redevelopment of Smiths Falls’ waterfront and creating linkages between recreational trails, said  Manhire. Another question, he said, is whether Victoria Park should continue to be used as a trailer park.

Aside from the Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre, the Youth Arena, and Lower Reach Park, the town’s recreational assets include Alexander Park, Murphy Park, Victoria Park, Centennial Park, Participaction Park, Hyland Park, the Civitan ball diamonds, and the Gleeson Dog Park. In all, the town has 88 acres of parkland and open space.

The town has also been gathering input through an online questionnaire, which has so far received 361 responses. “Anywhere between 250 and 500 are really good numbers,” said Dwyer.

The questionnaire is open for responses until April 30.