Lake Wilson’s popularity spurs more amenities

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Since the sweeping footbridge at Lake Wilson was unveiled this summer, use of the park in the northern part of the city has skyrocketed.

And now the city hopes to add even more amenities to the park with a proposed nearly $900,000 project.

“This project is not funded, so we don’t have direction from council to proceed,” City Manager Grant Goings said during the Wilson City Council’s Thursday morning meeting. “We had your blessing for the bridge at Lake Wilson and the results show there was a pent-up demand for that in the city. David called me during a recent warm spell and there were 51 cars at Lake Wilson. I think it is clear the community has shown they like these kind of offerings.”

The bridge completed a 2-mile walking trail at the lake, which has been incredibly popular with residents of all ages. The city also has made improvements to other parks around the city in the wake of a 2017 parks and recreation master plan.

“The use of Lake Wilson after the completion of the bridge and the walking trail has increased tenfold,” said Parks and Recreation Director David Lee. “It is almost as if most of the citizens didn’t know it existed, but now they do. The new plan for the park focuses on the beautiful sights around the water, nature and passive recreation opportunities.”

Deputy City Manager Harry Tyson said the proposed improvements include a new bridge over the dam, paved parking, sidewalks for accessibility, a bathroom, improved boat ramps and docks as well as a small dog park. As designed by Rivers & Associates, the plan will cost $891,750 and take about six months to complete once the necessary permits are obtained.

“If you choose, there is a potential some of this could be phased. However, the problem with phasing is the popularity of the park and how long it would be under construction,” Goings told the council. “It could take two, three or four years, which means a park that is getting used tremendously is constantly under construction. So if you approve the funding, we’d prefer to do it as one project.”

Council members supported completing the project all together and the city’s parks manager Dale Edmonds said the plan would be for crews to work on sections.

“Councilman James Johnson asked if we’d totally close down the park for the work, but there will be some times the park is closed because of what construction is underway, but that is not our goal,” Tyson said. “We want to get it done as soon as possible so people can get back to using it.”

The plan covers 90 acres at Lake Wilson with funding for the project coming from the city’s general fund.

“Since the recession, you have averaged about $1 million contribution back to the general fund balance at the end of the fiscal year,” Goings said. “I never like to guarantee that because we budget conservatively, but you can afford it with the budget overage from the last audit.”

While no increase in property taxes is anticipated for the plan, Goings did say staff was developing projects for improvements at a variety of the city parks so when the council is ready to move, there is no delay.

“I would anticipate that as we implement the parks and recreation master plan, you’ll need to start expecting between $700,000 and $1 million a year as we get these projects done,” Goings said. “If we get into a recession or something (that) will clearly affect the tax rate, I’ll let you know.”

The councilmen were eager to get construction going as Goings noted passive recreation improvements are popular from young adults to the city’s elders.

“I don’t want to slow down the momentum of our city, and parks and recreation is essential to that,” said Councilman Michael Bell.