Sixty years ago, a group of volunteers built Julian Feild Park with just a few handmade tables and swings to give the small, rural town of 1,200 a place to gather together. Mansfield looks a lot different now, with nearly 76,000 residents and a bustling economy, but one important thing has not changed. Parks still bring people together, and are a crucial part of the community.
The city is now home to 27 parks and facilities encompassing over 1,000 acres of land. This includes six public-private partnerships, the Mansfield Activities Center and the Walnut Creek Linear Trail. The department has been honored with the Texas Recreation and Park Society’s Gold Medal for overall excellence three times in addition to numerous individual awards and recognition. Perhaps most importantly, parks and recreation is often cited by residents as their favorite city service, and a top reason for moving to and/or staying in the city.
With that strong, beloved history in mind, Mansfield Parks and Recreation staff and the Mansfield Park Facilities Development Corporation began the master plan process nearly two years ago, mapping out the future vision for the department. The work included detailed evaluation and analysis of the inventory, demographics, current trends in parks and recreation, comparisons to benchmark communities near and far, as well as a review of progress since the last master plan was adopted in 2010. Future projections were another key factor. The process studied demographic changes, areas of large growth and other development the city will face over the next decade that could impact parks and programs.
“As the city grows and changes, so do their needs,” said Matt Young, parks and recreation director. “We have to plan not only for the residents of today but also those of tomorrow. The plan is designed to be proactive, anticipating future needs so we can be prepared instead of playing catch-up.”
One of the biggest components of the plan was public feedback, gathered through a variety of engagement tools including meetings, virtual discussions, surveys, in person events, focus groups and more.
“Our goal from the beginning was to create a citizen-driven plan,” said Ann Beck, marketing and communications manager. “The whole campaign was called ‘My Mansfield Parks’ because we truly believe the parks belong to the people they serve, and our plans should reflect the needs and desires of those residents.”
With the help of a volunteer advisory committee of 12 residents, the master plan draft was completed this fall and reviewed by citizens and stakeholders. After another round of public feedback and meetings with City Council, MPFDC, Planning and Zoning Commission and focus group participants, the plan was fine-tuned and finalized. On October 26, 2020, the Mansfield City Council formally adopted the plan, praising the thorough data and detailed approach.
“This is a truly great master plan,” said Mayor David L. Cook. “I really appreciate that you were able to complete it internally. These results, the attention to detail and focused strategies, could only be possible with the constant communication and involvement of residents that is clearly evident throughout the pages of this plan.”
The 2020 Mansfield Parks and Recreation Master Plan includes over 50 projects, divided into large-scale, citywide projects and smaller, park-specific projects in each city quadrant. The top priority overall is a multi-generational recreation center with fitness and aquatic facilities, the top request by citizen feedback and badly needed according to standards. Other citywide projects include family aquatic centers, an active adult center and nature education center at Oliver Nature Park.
In reviewing the data and feedback, the advisory committee identified four major focus areas, with the bulk of the projects addressing key issues within each. Playgrounds are a top priority for residents, but many are aging and not evenly distributed throughout the city. The master plan calls for upgrading all playgrounds and adding more neighborhood parks in underserved areas. Trails are the most used amenity across all demographics, but our mileage is far behind standards for the current population. Projects in the plan include completing the Walnut Creek Linear Trail and adding spine trail connections in other areas. Athletic fields across the city are long overdue for major renovations, but participation is declining. All fields will be upgraded as part of this master plan, which also calls for a new sports complex at the Southwest Community Park and a total overhaul of the Michael L. Skinner Sports Complex.
A full list of projects in the priority order developed by the committee can be found on the parks and recreation website here.
With the plan adoption, MPFDC and staff can begin placing projects on the department’s strategic business plan to determine timing and, most importantly, funding. City Council will use these plans as part of the overall city master plan, set to start in early 2021.
“We put a lot of work into this document in order to create a living, breathing guide for our operations," said Young. “This isn’t going to sit on a shelf and be forgotten for the next decade. We’re getting to work on implementation immediately, and specifically built accountability tracking into the plan. We’re going to keep engaging the community with our progress and hope they hold our feet to the fire if we don’t complete the proposed work. This master plan represents the vision that was echoed by thousands of residents over the last two years, and we’re excited to bring it to life for them.”