Some were in favour, some against, but mostly, people wanted to hear more about the naturalization of Centennial Park.
A steady stream of visitors dropped by the aquatic centre Tuesday afternoon to catch a glimpse of the conceptual design and ask questions about the proposed plan to rebuild the grassy hillside and lower bench in Glenmerry into a modern green design.
Rob Fershau, a landscape architect with MMM Group, cautions the idea is still in its infancy, but the pilot project involves three basic principles that hit all marks of sustainable development.
“If you can find a balance with three things in what you are creating – economic, environmental, and social – then chances are it is sustainable,” Fershau explained.
“Right now this is a concept showing what’s possible and explains the rationale behind it.”
Water conservation was the impetus when talks first began between MMM Group and the city.
Current water usage to irrigate the eight-acre lawn area is a staggering 1.32 million gallons of water each week, which equates to two olympic-sized swimming pools.
“So that was the driver of this project to start,” said Fershau. “And from an economic standpoint, the cost for mostly summer maintenance is $52,000,” he pointed out.
“So it’s a no-brainer to say we can, with this pilot project, reduce water usage and mowing dramatically for a space that is not well used.”
Possibilities were soon realized that reacclimatization could bring a neighbourhood connector of walking trails with an educational wetland and meadows for indigenous plants and wildlife.
Collaboration with John Howes, Trail’s engineering technician, the school district and the city’s beautification committee further supported the goal of building a stronger community through fundamental concepts of park naturalization.
“Environmentally, it’s quite evident when you naturalize something, you are going to get a lot more flora and fauna and cut down greenhouse gases from lawnmowers,” said Fershau, mentioning public perception that a natural environment would introduce mosquitoes.
“That’s one of the challenges is the perception that in creating a wetland there are mosquitoes,” he explained. “And in a healthy wetland, there are mosquitos – but there’s also many other little creatures that come along. When done properly, and we’ve done so many of these now, mosquitoes are not an issue.”
Achieving water reduction mandates and supporting a healthy habitat are positives, says Fershau.
But he maintains the social aspect is the foremost advantage of naturalizing space.
“I think the best part is the social benefits that people might not think about,” he continued. “Imagine a park where you now have a direct loop from the elementary school (Glenmerry Elementary) in a 1.5 kilometre walk. There’s a proven connection between health benefits and nature,” Fershau added. “I’ve done a lot of research on that, and studies show reduced anger, reduced stress and better attention in kids after a 20 minute walk.”
While many comments were favourable, Fershau acknowledged some Glenmerry homeowners voiced concern the park’s popular toboggan run would be lost.
“We would keep the toboggan area,” he concluded. “Although I think there are ways to improve it and make it safer. But this is just conceptual right now, people want to know exactly what it’s going to be, but we are not there yet.”
Howes and Larry Abenante from Trail public works attended the gathering. Both observed mixed reactions, but said the overall consensus welcomed the idea of naturalizing Centennial Park.
“They’ve looked at and said, ‘hey, this is a neat idea,’” said Howes. “This is one of the things we have to really take a look at in all our parks, to develop some sort of policy that prioritizes level of treatment each park gets for mowing and irrigation.”