Park Plan

Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation eyes a 10-year comprehensive plan to carry the city’s parks into the future.
Apr 1, 2024
Jennifer Blomquist
Jeffrey Crane & Provided

It was time.

“The last time we had a comprehensive plan done was in 2004,” says Steve McDaniel, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Director. “We knew we needed to update it, but there was always something that came up. We were planning to do it four years ago, but then COVID happened and we had to pivot.”

After looking at parks all over the country and researching their comprehensive plans, McDaniel and his team partnered with renowned landscape architect firm Design Workshop based in Chicago.

“Its founder is one of the leading park planners in the country,” says McDaniel. “The first thing we did once we started working with Design Workshop was look at the needs of the community, its demographics and how it’s growing. Their team inventoried and evaluated all of our parks. They looked at trends both across the country as well as trends here in the Midwest. Next, they worked on robust public input. We had multiple open houses, put out a survey and also set up an engagement platform called ‘Social Pinpoint’ — that’s where we received most of the public feedback. That enabled us to formulate a vision and, in turn, will allow us to prioritize and budget to make all of these things happen over the next 10 years.”

It’s a lengthy and painstaking process, but well worth the effort according to Alec Johnson, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Deputy Director of Planning and Development.

“It’s an investment that we’re giving back to our community. We want to ensure we’re looking in the right direction, and we have a vision for the future in order to continue to provide those great facilities and amenities,” says Johnson.

Both Johnson and McDaniel say the days when a park was simply a playground for children are long gone. Today’s parks encompass equipment and amenities that appeal to people of all ages and abilities.

“The top feature from the public input we received shows a high interest in multi-use trails,” says Johnson. “It’s an amenity that people really appreciate and want to see more of.”

“Another big trend is the ability to interact with water, be it a splash pad or an aquatics facility,” says McDaniel. “Splash pads are great, but I want to emphasize the importance of aquatics facilities. Teaching people how to swim is a lifelong skill that will help keep them safe. Over the last few years, our community has seen a big rise in some of the court activities, especially pickleball. We reacted and put in 36 new courts. We’ve also seen a noticeable rise in athletics, including golf and disc golf.”

Public input also shows a growing interest in extreme sports such as mountain biking and rock climbing.

“Those sports are growing nationwide at a pretty significant rate and we’re seeing that trickle down to Fort Wayne,” says Johnson. “Our comprehensive plan looks at the current conditions of parks and where there are gaps. The city is growing right now at a rate of 1.5% per year. Because of that, we’re starting to look at suitable pieces of land outside of city limits. Our forefathers here in the park district knew that as the city grew, we needed land and, typically, it’s easier to get that land when it’s outside of city limits. As the city grows, if you already have the land, you can land bank it and it’s a great asset to have for future use. A good example of this is Kreager and Buckner Parks. Both of these were outside city limits when the land was acquired. We had both properties for almost 30 years before we developed them, and were grateful to have the resources in our pocket as the city grew.”

While the comprehensive plan will call for changes, McDaniel says the park district in its current state is a standout.

“If you look at other park systems, I think we’re in a leadership position within the state of Indiana in terms of the amount of parks we have and the quality. When you compare us to similar-size cities outside of the state, we’re probably near the top, but there are other cities that have higher budgets and bigger staffs. As the city grows, we don’t want to sit on the sidelines. That’s why we’re executing this plan — so that we continue to stand out as an organization and as a park system.”

Design Workshop is still working on the plan and McDaniel says they hope to have the final draft this spring for the Park board to review and adopt it.

“This is our chance to share with the public details about the physical, mental, social, environmental and economic benefits of parks,” says Johnson. “The pandemic gave us a good opportunity to realize how important outdoor public spaces are and this plan will serve as a reminder to our citizens of what parks actually contribute to the quality of life. We believe the people of Fort Wayne will continue to support the growth of parks along with the growth of the city.” 

Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation

Phone: (260) 427-6000


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