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Meeting on parks, paths draws mostly negative words

Jul 14, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Most comments were negative as Riverton community members shared their opinions about local parks and trails during a city council work session July 8.

Some residents even said they were afraid to utilize some of Riverton's public spaces.

First to speak were Kelli Gard and Sarah Remacle, owners and at the Renew Family Fitness Studio. Gard immediately became emotional when talking about Riverton's Rails to Trails pathway, where two people were found brutally assaulted last year.

One of the victims died, while the other was severely injured.

'Fairly terrified'

"I was out last year when those people were discovered," Gard said. "Ever since then, we have been fairly terrified of the bike path. ... It can be very scary."

She referenced other, less-violent incidents during which runners or other pedestrians felt intimidated by people on the path. For example, she said she has encountered groups of men who refused to step aside to let her run past.

"We literally have been going to go on the path but have taken a different path because there were too many sketchy characters," Gard said. "It's an intimidating place to go."

The runners don't want to abandon the Rails to Trails, however. Instead, Gard's group has handed out mace to its members who use the public walkway, and Remacle's husband, who works for the Wyoming Department of Corrections, even held a training session to show runners how to properly operate the weapon.

Mayor, police chief

Mayor Ron Warpness was concerned by the comments, and Riverton Police Department chief Mike Broadhead said he was disheartened to hear that residents are afraid to use public spaces.

"I applaud them for taking that step to protect themselves (with mace)," Broadhead said. "But as a professional peace officer, I regret they have to do that."

He noted that recent efforts to address similar problems at Riverton City Park may have led to an increase of unsavory behavior on the Rails to Trails pathway.

"Until we solve the underlying problem, we're just going to displace the problem," he said, referring to local problems with alcohol and substance abuse.

A committee has been formed locally to address issues of alcoholism and public intoxication on city streets, and Broadhead said the group has been making progress.

Maintenance

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen asked if Gard felt fearful using other local pathways, like the Darcie Zimmer Memorial path on North Eight Street West of the path along Riverview Road. Gard said those facilities aren't really usable for runners. Remacle mentioned weed control in particular.

"It's dangerous to have to step over huge weeds, (especially when) we do early morning runs (and) you can't see what you're running into," she said. "If we could get funding (for weed-killing chemicals) we would be happy to have a volunteer group to help do maintenance."

She also suggested more lighting on North Eighth Street West, again offering volunteer help in assembling or constructing the equipment.

"We're not trying to put this on anybody else," Remacle said. "We want to be involved."

Civil engineer James Gores offered his services as well, and Councilman Martin Cannan recommended a program through which residents or groups could adopt portions of the Rails to Trails or city parks.

Local mother Claire Peart also mentioned maintenance when she approached the council. At Jaycee Park, for example, she said the wood chips on the playground need to be replenished, and the black surface underneath the wood chips needs to be repaired. In addition, the fence that was built with donations from community members now is broken in several places.

Peart suggested an ongoing fundraiser to develop a maintenance fund for the park. In addition, she said park attendants or call boxes would encourage people to use local facilities more responsibly.

"Vandalism would be less, damage of equipment would be less, and parents would be more accountable if they knew it was a more involved process," she said. "You can't just drop your kids off."

At Rein Park, she said, mosquito control is necessary, and the grass needs to be cut more frequently so kids can play soccer.

Teter Park has become littered with trash since North Broadway was extended to connect with Webbwood Road, and Peart said the equipment there is "incredibly dated" and not fun for children. She suggested installing a "splash pad" somewhere in the city, as did Susann Kreitzer, a resident who has lived in Riverton for about a year.

Kreitzer said teens she has spoken with don't feel they have a safe place to recreate in town, and when she goes to local parks she said she hears a lot of young children using foul language.

"These are little kids 4-5 years old dropping the 'F' bomb and cussing," she said. "That's one of the reasons our parks aren't being used. ... These people, they have potty mouths."

Understanding

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen advocated for understanding and communication among community members who may embrace differing values.

"Everyone has problems," she said. "A lot of those folks are very nice."

Resident Kelly Goede acknowledged Christensen's sentiment, but she also pointed out that intoxicated people walking together in groups are likely to make bad choices.

Goede has lived in the Ashgrove neighborhood for 20 years, and she said the area has become unsafe recently.

"It has changed immensely," Goede said. "I have two running friends who have actually been attacked and tried to find help and were very fearful. ... I've had a similar situation myself."

Goede suggested the city organize public outreach to educate people about their options in the case of an attack or other dangerous situation.

"Someone in this audience ... found someone passed out under the influence at 5:30 a.m.," Goede said. "What do we do? How do we handle that? ... We have to fix it, and we need to do it together."

The conversation was part of an effort to develop a parks and trails master plan for the city. A committee has been meeting since January to generate the document, which should be ready by the beginning of 2015.

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Riverton City Council