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Residents show keen interest in Wilderness Park future

As the city moves forward with the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park Master Plan, community members remain interested in what the future holds for the prominent local preserve and its effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.

More than 80 people assembled Monday night to participate in the Master Plan Community Meeting, the third coordinated by city officials over the past eight months. The gathering was an opportunity to provide an update on the development of the master plan, as well as engage the public in the planning process.

During the two-hour presentation, MIG’s Senior Environment Planner John Baas discussed the goals and guiding principles of the park as well as provided an abridged version of results from the firm’s research that has been conducted over the past six months.

Usage and environment

On September 12, MIG released their report summarizing the number of park users visiting the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, based on information collected from their intercept surveys conducted on various dates and times from late spring through mid-summer.

The estimate is from 473,420 to 566,472 annual visits, supporting a general conclusion that CHWP receives about 500,000 visits per year.

Information was gathered by the Visitor Intercept Survey, which consisted of: 1) a count of visitors exiting the park within a two-hour period, and 2) a written questionnaire in which individuals reported on their experience in the park and made suggestions for improvements.

A total of 2,242 surveys were collected from volunteers at five CHWP access points during 16 exit survey dates. The survey summary sheets counted a total of 3,737 users and 2,259 groups with an average of 1.65 people per group. Most visitors were walking (2,941), with about 597 counted running, and 199 biking.

Additionally, 241 leashed dogs were counted. No horses or equestrians were observed.

Three approaches were used to develop estimates of recreation use levels at the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. Two were based on data collected as a part of visitor surveys. The third approach was based on data generated by the city’s parking lot tracking system, as well as 2013 parking count data collected by city staff.

According to MIG, an understanding of the general magnitude of annual visitation may be sufficient to develop policies and implementation actions if the goal of the master plan effort is to manage the impacts associated with park usage rather than establishing a maximum number of visits per year.

In addition, Bonterra Psomas, an environmental planning and resource management service, conducted a baseline environmental assessment of the 1,700-acre study area and identified areas within the park where disturbance has affected the current environmental conditions. Although the study area was found to be in overall good condition, Mr. Baas noted several areas that need to be addressed, including the use of unauthorized trails, as well as the presence of litter and human waste.

Preliminary recommendations included bear-resistant trashcans as well as a litter abatement service to maintain the aesthetics of the park.

According to Mr. Baas, the lack of restrooms is also a concern, particularly on the main loop. Noting their remote location and the cost of maintenance, porta-potties were all but ruled out. Compostable toilets were suggested, although someone would have to turn the woodchips, a task that met with “Ewws” from the audience.

Neighborhood impact

As in past meetings, residents expressed their concerns regarding the impact the popularity of the park is having on surrounding neighborhoods.

Parking continues to be an issue for those who visit and those who live within walking distance to the park’s entrances. The North Mills and Thompson Creek Trail lots continue to fill, sending overflow parking onto city streets. On-street parking restrictions have eliminated some of the issue but residents fear the problem will continue.

Additional parking options were presented as a solution, including expanding the Thompson Creek Trail lot by 125 parking spaces as well as acquiring adjacent private land for an additional 239 parking spaces.

Also discussed, was the possibility of providing 37 diagonal parking spaces along the shoulder of the west side of Mills Avenue from Pomello Drive to Mt. Baldy Road, and free parking at other nearby parks when sporting events were absent.

Residents appeared open to the options presented, but were not in favor of establishing an online park reservation system with its added cost of ranger staff and a public information campaign.

“Throughout this master plan process we have heard from a variety of stakeholders with a wide range of issues and thoughts on solutions,” said Claremont’s Assistant City Manager, Colin Tudor. “The city’s consultant, working with city staff and commissions, will analyze these issues and present recommendations that balance preservation with passive recreation.”

A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting regarding the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park Master Plan will be held at 6 p.m. on January 12, 2015 in the Padua Room at the Hughes Community Center. Members will summarize input, and narrow down master plan options as well as provide more cost analysis of the preferred options with possible alternatives.

A community meeting, which will include a presentation of the draft master plan, is scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 13, 2015 at Taylor Hall.

All meetings are open to the public.

For more information on the Claremont Hills Wilderness Master Plan, visit the city’s website and review the materials provided under Wilderness Master Plan.

—Angela Bailey

news@claremontp-courier.com

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