17 January 2012

Levi Carter Park Master Plan Considerations

Once Nebraska and Iowa officials finish the industrialization of Carter Lake, their focus will be turned to altering Levi Carter Park. A master plan concept indicates the proposed changes, of which some are slight but others quite significant.

Plan proposed for Levi Carter Park.
Received from Omaha Parks Recreation and Public Property, November 2011.

Getting right into details, two primary weaknesses in the plan are the indicated extent of the park area, and land parcel ownership.

The park boundary shown does not include, for example, the City of Omaha parcel at the northwest corner. The Boyd Park area is not even included in the plan, though it is adjacent to the park, and one map seen in park facilities, indicates this area as part of Levi Carter Park. It was ignored, possibly because a railroad right-of-way separates it from the park space. There are two property parcels, according to details shown by the Douglas County assessors office. Both are mostly wooded. The landowner adjacent to the south side of the west tract, has been allowed to encroach onto the city property, reducing its value as a green, park space that would be perfect for a minimal develop hiking/nature trail.

There are areas of private company ownership associated with Levi Carter Park:

1). a bit more than 2 acres at the south end of the west side is owned by the Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad
2). along the west side, a corridor cuts through the middle of the park lands, which was formerly a railway corridor, but which has been abandoned.
3). a corridor on the north side of the park is a long abandoned trackway owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. It has been recognized as the Browne Street Woods, and would be a valuable addition to the park's extent, as it has a long existing buffer from industrial and residential area to the north. A representative of the company and a city were put in contact in November, 2011 to see if the Omaha corporation would donate the few acres to the Omaha Parks foundation. Nothing has been heard subsequently.

Parcel id. no. 0203530010 owned by Virgil Anderson, Omaha. This parcel continues to the north.

Parcel id. 0209580000 owned by Chicago Central & Pacific, Waterloo, Iowa.

Information valid as of December 31, 2011, Douglas County Assessors office website.

Resolving land ownership should be a top priority, and should be atop any list for any site planning. The final disposition of land use cannot occur unless the City of Omaha owns the property.

Additional items deserve further consideration, starting on the south and west side of the park lands:

The necessity of proposed new street lights along Carter Lake Shore Drive West would require additional power lines and provide light. Upon entering the park-scape from the south along this route, the most obvious presentation is already power lines and poles which dramatically reduce the view presentation. Any new power lines should be buried.

A new off-leash dog park is proposed on what is now a holding yard for city of Omaha material, primarily tree waste. Having the dog park here would require construction of additional parking and place what could be a prominently used feature a distance away from other places where people would congregate in the park. A dog park should be located at a place associated with other uses, so that while someone is enjoying a picnic, has an acquaintance playing a field sport, or some other event, could walk to the dog park to let their pooch run. Having it separated at a distance conveys a theme of "dropping park features into any space where they fit" rather than an attention to conjunctive use and thoughtful design.

The loop trail along the lake side follows a usual norm of park planning. It is apparently placed as close as reasonable to the lake, as indicated to the most part in this park's plan. Wherever possible, there should be a minimal 50 foot distance from the lake, and screening vegetation — especially shrubs — should be added as a visual barrier. Users of the trail do not require a continual, unobstructed perspective, and obscured places add a sense of mystery to what might be seen at the next place. It is only because of project planners that a trail is proposed for construction that would be as close as possible water feature, irregardless of any natural use, i.e. migrant wild birds which would obviously react to any walker, biker, dog not on a leash or other sort of traffic near the water spot which thought might be a temporary haven.k,

There is — in an obvious omission — no recognition given to the "meadow in the making tract" on the west side of the street. A sign currently indicates this feature, of which a portion is owned by a private landowner. This latter area has some features representative of wetland conditions, and are unique in the vicinity.

The failure of this plan to recognize the meadow feature, which includes wet soil conditions, indicates a bias against existing green habitat and the many values it provides. The plan does not indicate how the distinctive cottonwood tree grove will be retained. Any retention of this feature is impossible as once the already mature trees age and fall over, this dramatic vista will be gone. Instead, it will have a tepid condition of scrub growth and taller, though unwanted red cedar trees. There has been no effort by anyone to remove invasive cedar trees anywhere in the park.

Two wetland areas are indicated north of Cornish Boulevard. How they will be established and maintained might be associated with the CSO! project, as the parks department will not create such habitats. The big question is how the requisite hydrologic condition would be established?

The northwest corner wooded area has a relict pond but is been completely ignored, as if it was not a part of the park. The place should at least be recognized as a valuable green space to buffer the parklands from the adjacent neighborhood. Perhaps it could be a specifically identified habitat where flora and fauna could flourish, undisturbed.

Although the summary document available — and which was the only information provided upon a request to the Omaha Parks and Recreation department — does not present the particular details essential to understand any park plan, an obvious question is what the source of funding will be for many of the proposed additions or changes. Particular items that would have to be paid for are picnic shelters, sand volleyball courts, interpretive exhibits, improvements of construction of parking lots at multiple sites, renovation of the historic pavilion and bath house, building a new boat dock near the current "beach" site, and providing a two-lane boat ramp, where there is now a single access ramp suitable for boaters.

There is an indicated proposal for sand volleyball courts along the lake's edge, south of where the decrepit buildings currently occur. The plan seems to convey that this area is a beach. It isn't. The ground is covered by grass. Will there be tons of sand hauled in to create a beach? What would be the extent of use for volleyball courts? Would they be built and used once or twice a season? The bottom line ... put this feature somewhere else where there would be a trivial cost to provide the sandy area proposed. The many dump-truck loads hauled in to fill sand bags last year, would have been sufficient, but the stuff was taken away, rather than be repurposed, as city employees have time and trucks for anything an administrator tells them to do.

Three multi-use fields are obviously indicated for the large extent of mown lawn currently present north and somewhat east of the decrepit buildings along the north shore of the lake. This feature would include a new parking lot. There is now a bunch of grass here, so a better use of the space could be beneficial, though the ongoing requirement for mowing would not change.

It is near here that the dog-park should be placed as it would then be much more convenient to more park users.

Changes at the "northeast park site" include the boat ramp expansion. Then the list includes clear brush along shoreline, for some unknown reason except to allow a clear view for gawkers, as it does not require the removal of shoreline vegetation for boaters to see what is happening when they rev their motors upon unloading into the lake.

Nothing in the plan graphic indicates how the trees now present — primarily cottonwoods many decades old — would be replaced to continue to convey a dramatic arboreal setting. Many of these trees are now broken-down condition, which would necessitate their removal.

Nothing is given in the plan design which is pertinent to the lake-shore setting on the "interior" of the lake, adjacent to the city of Carter Lake. The area is part of the park — according to Carter Lake officials — and a wetland, as indicated by federal criteria. Specific efforts should be made to ensure the current land use continues and is not encroached upon and not buried under rip-rap. This bit of somewhat of a natural setting is perhaps the last extent of this sort of place along the lake.

City and state officials were made aware of an interest to place a sign in recognition of the Sandy Griswold Bird Sanctuary, first recognized in the 1920s. Any attention to this aspect and valuable natural feature of the lake has nonetheless not received any attentive consideration. This is an indication of bias in planning which seemingly favors a trend of the moment, while ignoring prominent historic features. Once the lake is "industrialized" by dredging and dumping of hundreds of tons of rock into the lake, any reason for indicating this feature would be a travesty, as why recognize a setting where masses of rock will be the predominant feature?

Sandy Griswold was astutely aware of nature and its subtle presentation, as expressed again in his poetic prose. His recognized legacy cannot be presented in a view-scape where huge amounts of rock dumped into an oxbow lake are the prominent feature.

The park master plan strives to present more, based upon additions and construction. Yet, little if any attention has been given to what is currently present and represents the park legacy, since it was established by the donation of Mr. Carter, many decades ago. While community input is essential, the demands need to be moderated by the realities of cost and other considerations.

For Levi Carter Park, the indicated plan has an obvious lack of focus, gives only a tepid attention to detail, ignores land ownership, and conveys a lack of consideration as to how the actual property aspects could truly create a unique setting in the urban area. The lake could also be appreciated rather than be deformed by ignorant demands./P>