Getting input from the citizens of the community is an important part of any planning effort. The public input process for the County’s open space initiative started with surveys that were done back in 2008. In that survey, citizens expressed an interest in preserving floodways and natural habitats, improving off-street trail connections, and identifying options for a central public space amenity that all county residents could enjoy. The Rockwall County Open Space Alliance (RCOSA) was formed in 2011 by a group of citizens who are passionate about preserving open space and providing opportunities for current and future residents to enjoy nature for educational, recreational and quality of life benefits. In over 20 years of doing planning and engineering work, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a group of citizens who are as committed to their cause as the RCOSA Executive Committee. We are lucky to have Bob DeJean, Nell Welborn, Becky Burkett, Charlie Pratt, and Dale Morgan serving our county and communities!
Our Open Space Master Plan project kicked off back in January with an informational public meeting. We discussed some of the challenges facing Rockwall County as it continues to be one of the fastest growing areas in Texas and the country, and some of the ways well-planned open space can add value to communities. Over 70 people attended the meeting, despite poor weather and icy road conditions.
In April, we conducted an online survey to get additional input from county residents. The survey asked citizens what they like about current parks, trails and public open spaces in the county. It also asked people what types of open space related activities they leave the county for, and what they would like to see more of in the county as it develops. Here are some of the key takeaways from that survey:
- Nearly 600 people responded. Responses were received from all 6 cities in the county and residents of unincorporated areas.
- Over 95% believe it is important to have quality open space to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and that this open space is important to quality of life in Rockwall County.
- 54% of respondents said the condition of existing open/recreation space is either excellent (6%) or good (48%).
- 14% said public access to open space was sufficient, while another 59% said it was sufficient, but could be improved. 27% said it was insufficient, citing lack of walkable or bikeable connections.
- Walking/running trails, nature trails and off-street bicycle trails were the most important activities people were seeking public open space for. When asked to rate how well needs were currently being met (on a scale of 1-5), walking/running trails averaged 2.9, nature trails 2.44 and off-street bike trails 2.34.
- Frequently visited spaces in the county included neighborhood parks, Harry Myers and Squabble Creek. A number of people commented that they enjoy walking or biking around their neighborhood park, but that if they want to walk or ride longer distances, those trails and connections are lacking. Comments were also received that Harry Myers and Squabble Creek are often over-crowded, indicating more facilities like these in other parts of the county would be desirable.
- The majority of existing open space opportunities are in the western portion of the county in Rowlett, Rockwall and Heath. Residents of Fate and Royse City expressed an interest in having more neighborhood parks and trails, as well as trail connections to Harry Myers and downtown Rockwall.
- A significant number of citizens indicated that they were unsure where existing parks, trails and public spaces in the county were located.
- Open space facilities that respondents frequently leave the county for included White Rock Lake, Katy Trail, Dallas Arboretum, Klyde Warren Park and the Heard Museum.
- Many comments were made about the need for more athletic fields or passive park areas where youth sports teams can practice. (Note: this project is not focusing on athletic facilities, but will identify opportunities for more public open spaces with flat field areas that can be used for practices and other types of informal sport activities.)
- Preferred activities for a centralized open space in the county included trails, picnic facilities and nature appreciation/education.
- 78% believe County residents would benefit from a county-wide trail system. Another 16% felt it would be beneficial, but should be done by the individual cities.
The survey results have been shared with all of the cities, and discussions have been ongoing regarding coordinating the County Open Space Plan with the current and future plans each of the cities have for floodplain preservation, parks and trails.
The next step in the public input process is the community workshop coming up on July 15th. The workshop will be a hands-on open house style meeting where attendees will be able to learn more about the existing parks, trails and public open spaces already available throughout the county and review the results of our team’s analysis. Attendees will also be asked to help identify and prioritize potential open space opportunities and off-street trail corridors. This input will be used along with conversations with property owners in potential opportunity areas to guide the development of the final plan and implementation program.
Thank you to everyone who has taken time to provide input thus far. If you haven’t engaged in this effort yet, I encourage you to attend the meeting on July 15th. Preserving and connecting quality open spaces throughout the county is critical to maintaining property values, recruiting and retaining businesses and residents, and providing ample opportunities for residents to enjoy active and passive recreation activities. Take advantage of this opportunity to express your interests, ideas and concerns!
Kevin Shepherd is a Rockwall resident and co-founder of VERDUNITY, the consulting firm leading the Open Space Planning effort. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.