Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Departments shares programming and park updates

Scattered across Fort Wayne, there are 57 playgrounds and 48.75 miles of trails maintained by Fort Wayne Parks and Recreations. The parks vary greatly in size and amenities. Some offer playgrounds or splash pads, while others have tennis courts, pickleball courts, soccer fields, or basketball courts. Some have large grassy areas with tall trees or benches, while others have gardens, carefully designed by the Parks and Recreation gardeners. 

If you ask Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Director Steve McDaniel, he’ll tell you the variety is what makes the city’s parks stand out.

“When you talk to a resident of Fort Wayne, they will talk about parks that resonate with them because not all of them are the same,” says McDaniel. 

However, the size and layout of the parks are not the only aspects that make the parks in Fort Wayne special. The variety of parks gives the Parks and Recreation Department the opportunity to host events based on the unique features of its parks.

For example, Fort Wayne Parks hosts day camps for children and teens during the summer, each geared toward the amenities available at one of the Fort Wayne parks.

River Camp, based at Shoaff Park, is geared around activities in the river such as kayaking, canoeing, and boating. River Camp attendees discover what’s along the streambanks of the St. Joseph, St. Marys, and Maumee Rivers. ACTIVenture Camp at the Botanical Conservatory includes adventurous activities like rope climbing, ziplining, bouldering, and mountain biking. Farmin' Fun Day Camp at Salomon Park gives kids the chance to learn about farm animals, agriculture, and life on a farm. Day Camp at Franke Park, which is heading into its 77 year, uses the surrounding wooded area to teach children camping skills.

J Schipper
Between the day camps, the sports fields and courts, and the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, there is a lot of fun to be had at the Fort Wayne parks, but to enjoy the parks, McDaniel explains that a big portion of funding goes toward maintaining them. 

For example, out of the 89 parks in Fort Wayne, there are 140 buildings in those parks that at some point need new roofs, fresh paint, and general maintenance to keep them up. To keep up with that maintenance the Parks and Recreation team goes to each park, does an assessment on everything in the park, and creates a master list of what needs to be addressed first and what needs to be replaced.

“The team has been doing a great job getting out to all of our parks on a daily basis,” says McDaniel.

They also rely on the help of Fort Wayne residents, who can volunteer individually or in groups; some of the volunteer tasks to complete include replacing mulch, pulling weeds, and updating paint.
Visit Fort Wayne“We have a great volunteer base, and we wouldn’t have our parks looking so nice without them,” McDaniel says.

While routine maintenance is important to keeping the parks in their best condition, sometimes it is not enough. When park updates go beyond general maintenance, the parks team has to develop a plan for the future of the park and an important part of that process is seeking feedback from the public.

When gathering input from neighborhood residents on updates to the parks, McDaniel and his team inquire about how the park is being used and what amenities are least used. They often ask residents what they like or dislike about the parks around their neighborhoods too.

Recently, Parks and Recreation has been working on plans for Brewer Park, Packard Park, Moody Park and Hanna Homestead Park.
By Sierah BarnhartBrewer ParkA master plan was completed for Brewer Park and Packard Park, McDaniel explains and they received both private funding and funding from the city to put the plan into action. There will be bids going out later this year to start construction. 

He estimates the renovations at Brewer Park, which include replacing the playground and adding a splash pad, restrooms, basketball courts and trails, should take a year to a year and a half to complete. Renovations to Packard Park will be similar, including new playground equipment, a renovated plaza and an updated walking path. Master plans for Moody Park and Hanna Homestead Park have been put on hold due to a lack of funding.

The input received during the public input section of the planning process can greatly affect the final results of a park’s master plan. 

In 2022, the Parks Department released plans to revamp the golf course at Foster Park. At the time McDaniel told WBOI News that the redesign was meant to celebrate the park’s 100th year. The plan, which would have rearranged the golf course as a means of dealing with stormwater, quickly received negative feedback. Residents in the neighborhood expressed frustrations that the plan would change existing trails without taking into consideration the feedback of those who use the trail.

Foster ParkThe Parks and Recreation team ended up retracting that plan to gather more community input on the future of Foster Park. Using the new feedback they gathered, McDaniel and his team were about to rework the plan to address the concerns of area residents. He says they have since heard back from residents that their feedback has been addressed. 

Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation will move forward on the updates to Foster Park as soon as they can. Fort Wayne City Utilities has been working on a deep rock tunnel project that will help alleviate the overflows of the river. While this work is beneficial, it has impacted the entrance to Foster Park.

Residents in that neighborhood have endured quite a bit of construction, but McDaniel says, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

When City Utilities finishes its project, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreations will reimagine the entrance to the park. As the green construction fence comes down, they will begin to envision what the garden will look like. He says they are in the process of gathering input from neighborhood residents about the garden.

McDaniel says another one of the challenges they face when updating parks is the weather. This year has already brought in a significant amount of rain, and out of 2,800 acres of parkland, 900 of them are in the floodplain, which means when large amounts of rain come in they are unusable and unable to be worked on.

In addition to weather, park updates are often costly. McDaniels says since creating the master plan for Franke Park in 2019, construction costs have significantly increased, and Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation has had to raise more funds. In addition to tax dollars,  Fort Wayne parks receive money from donations, grants, and individual philanthropy.

Phase one of the Franke Park Renaissance Master Plan is coming to life.“We couldn’t do it without volunteers and people donating,” says McDaniel. “We are thankful to the people of Fort Wayne for putting their trust in what we do.” 

Despite the challenges, McDaniel expresses that he still sees positivity within the work on the parks. 

“I work with a lot of great people who are dedicated at all levels,” he says. “The success we’re seeing is due to the dedication and spirit they have, as well as their great creativity.” 

He points to the progress being made at Franke Park as a positive update. The Franke Park master plan was released in 2019, and Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation is currently in the middle of construction of Phase One. 

Phase One includes new features such as the entrance off Goshen Road, a bridge going over Spy Run Creek, a pavilion and a shelter. The goal is to tie in new roadways to Franke Park. McDaniel says they want people to travel to the park less by car and more by biking or walking, so this phase will build out some of the future phases that focus on pathways and connecting the trail systems for pedestrians and 10 miles of mountain bike trails. 

Along with more trails, the new pavilion will have a capacity of 400 people. This can serve as a venue for weddings, corporate gatherings or any other large event. 
Phase One construction will be completed this fall, just in time to begin preparing for the Fantasy of Lights. 

The next round of construction, Phase Two, focuses on the East side of the park. That phase will help address parking at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, which sees over 650,000 visitors each year. Improvements in future phases, such as trails and parking, will also benefit day camps.

In addition to volunteers who help maintain the parks, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation is always looking for seasonal or part-time employees of all skill sets. These positions include lifeguards, pool attendants, cashiers at the golf courses, deckhands on the Sweet Breeze canal boat, camp counselors and youth athletic instructors.

Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation released their summer “Fun Times” on May 8, which helps residents find activities at local parks. 
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