Parks and Greenways

green-iconA Regional Interconnected Network of Parks, Greenways, and Open Spaces

 

Objective 1 – Expand and improve a network of green space hubs linked by greenways and trails
Objective 2 – Improve the access and use of existing parks and green space for the benefit of people and wildlife
Objective 3 – Develop a regional identity and central entity to coordinate development of the green space network

 

Regional Context
The Mid-South is rich in natural assets such as prime farmland, wetlands, forests, wildlife habitat, rivers, and streams. The region is bisected by the Mississippi River and connected by its tributaries. The Mississippi Flyway is a central corridor for bird migration, and the watersheds of the Mississippi’s tributaries and adjoining wetlands contribute to the recharge of one of the most pristine aquifers in the nation, the Memphis Sands Aquifer. These natural features enable life for humans and wildlife in the region, and contribute to quality of life,tourism, and recreation. The natural environment should be an equal priority to the built environment and balanced appropriately when planning for the growth and prosperity of the region. It is important to recognize the value of the region’s natural assets, understand how they interact with the built environment, and connect across communities and the region.

Both large, regional green assets and small, local green assets are not yet connected by a network of parks, greenways, and open spaces. There are efforts to improve individual network components, but many other key connectivity projects have not been addressed. Though there are currently 164 miles of greenway trails in the region, the green infrastructure network has major gaps in access and usage. Furthermore, policies regarding green space across the region at all levels are inconsistent.

A well-connected natural system that connects across watersheds is able to better perform ecological
functions. But a well-performing natural system requires forethought and coordination between municipalities and developments. In addition to environmental, recreational, and ecological benefits, connecting our natural system across the region can unlock economic, social, and health benefits as well.

 

Proposed Outcomes
By addressing objectives associated with A Regional Interconnected Network of Parks, Greenways, and Open Spaces, the following outcomes are expected:
• Improved access to public and open spaces in all communities
• Readily accessible neighborhood, community, and regional parks, open spaces, and trails
• An increase in neighborhood parks, particularly in areas not served today
• An increase of 448 miles of new greenway trails to create a regional network of 499 miles
• Access to an interconnected network of local, community, and regional trails
• A strongly linked network of open space hubs serving humans and wildlife along and between streams and other corridors
• Improved water quality in the region’s rivers, lakes, creeks, and ponds
• Preserved rural agricultural and working lands, including eco- and agri-tourism
• Improved conservation and restoration of sensitive lands including the flood-prone, habitat for wildlife, viewsheds, and wetlands

Based on greatest needs identified for A Regional Interconnected Network of Parks, Greenways, and Open Spaces, the following objectives focus on expanding and improving the green space network and the parks and trails within it. Actions consider creation of new green space amenities, but also focus on maintenance and safety in existing green spaces in order to improve their use and benefit to communities.

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Objective 1 – Expand and improve a network of green space hubs linked by greenways and trails

1.1.1 Protect and create green space hubs to anchor the regional green infrastructure network
1.1.2 Protect existing and create new links and loops between hubs
1.1.3 Develop loops or circuits that connect strategic greenways and the major watersheds
1.1.4 Protect existing and create new sites to ensure residents are within close proximity to parks or trails
1.1.5 Adopt regionally-accepted criteria for prioritization of enhancing hubs and links as part of an interconnected network of green spaces
1.1.6 Promote environmental benefits of green infrastructure when advocating for new facilities
1.1.7 Incorporate a diverse range of active and passive recreation amenities into green spaces in an environmentally sensitive way
1.1.8 Preserve and integrate agricultural and rural scenic character and history into the system of parks, green spaces, and trails
1.1.9 Connect greenways and trails to cultural resources and historic sites, settlements, and communities

Generally, an interconnected network of parks, greenways, and open spaces follows a design of hubs and sites connected by links and loops throughout the region. The Greenprint plan process followed this model from the initial plan development phase, placing greater value on hubs, links, and sites that offer public access for people, in addition to wildlife habitat. Hubs are large areas that anchor a green infrastructure network, such as large, regional parks and wildlife management areas. Examples include Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, Shelby Farms Park, and Arkabutla Lake. The main attributes of any hub are its size and the specific environmental and ecological advantages offered due to its large size.

Links within the green infrastructure network are the connections between hubs. Links are linear natural corridors such as stream corridors, ridgelines, or abandoned rail lines. These corridors are considered an effective means of linking isolated islands of publicly accessible green space and critical wildlife habitat that have been fragmented by development, agriculture, or some other impediment.

Greenways such as the Shelby Farms Greenline and Wolf River Greenway are examples of links. The term “greenway” is often used to describe a linear open space corridor. Greenways may either be publicly owned and developed as parkland or privately owned natural resource corridors. Links may also be included as part of facilitating transportation between hubs. On-street facilities such as bike lanes, cycle tracks, and parallel running trails may be considered links. Sites are smaller than hubs and are not necessarily attached to interconnected green space systems. But like the other components of the network, sites contribute important environmental and social values, such as spaces for physical activity and recreation, farmland for agricultural production, or places for cultural or ecological tourism.

Connecting a diverse range of sites across urban, suburban, and rural communities to the Greenprint network generates a broader range of benefits to the region. Many of the hubs and sites identified in the Greenprint network exist today, yet many of the proposed links are not yet established. The Concept Map proposes to link these hubs and sites with a network of 499 miles of greenways and 196 miles of key on-street connectors. In addressing this ambitious task, criteria on the following page is suggested for prioritizing development of new links.

Objective 2 – Improve the access and use of existing parks and green space for the benefit of people and wildlife

1.2.1 Create an inventory of access points and assess the equitable distribution and quality of these access points
1.2.2 Create way-finding signage, web and mobile applications, and published materials to inform individuals on navigating greenways, trails, and bicycle routes between neighborhoods, parks, and activity centers
1.2.3 Prepare, update, and share plans for park improvements, maintenance, safety, and facility assets management
1.2.4 Create, fund, and execute a pilot project to address maintenance and safety issues in one or more underused parks
1.2.5 Plan and execute regular organized activities at pilot project sites to induce greater use, demonstrate improvements, and catalyze additional improvements
1.2.6 Institutionalize continued activities by securing necessary commitments, resources, and organizational capacity
1.2.7 Identify and convert underutilized parks into wildlife and habitat restoration areas and
corridors
1.2.8 Incorporate standards compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into planning for parks, greenways, and other public open spaces

Park Access MapThe Mid-South currently has 25 acres of park space per 1,000 residents, higher than many comparable regions. The region should promote this abundance of park space, but recognize parks are not equitably distributed, residents have different recreational interests, and not all parks are well-used. The map to the right illustrates the gaps in park space currently present in the region. Areas in green demonstrate access within ½ mile, or a 10-minute walk, to a park or green space.

Addressing maintenance and programming in existing parks emerged as a priority region-wide. Parks provide a range of benefits from physical activity to community gathering places. These spaces have a direct impact on health, safety, and quality of life. However, many of the region’s parks are underused due to perceptions of safety, lack of programming for individuals of all ages, or lack of maintenance. Addressing these issues can potentially improve use of underused parks.

Cities and counties in the region should collaborate to share best practices for planning and improving parks. Park plans should not only address improvements and facilities, but maintenance, safety, and design. Park plans should integrate more native landscaping, wildflowers, and trees to reduce maintenance needs, while creating wildlife habitat and park amenities.

Communities, through a variety of partnership models, can take a pilot approach to address maintenance, safety, and use of parks that can be replicated. Residents can help by raising small amounts of money needed to introduce improvements or organize activities that attract use. Government can encourage sustained use by investing in activities and improvements that increase park use and improve safety.

 

Objective 3 – Develop a regional identity and central entity to coordinate development of the green space network

1.3.1 Create or identify a management entity to develop, manage, and seek funding for
the green space network
1.3.2 Create a regional identity for the green space network based on the importance of the Mississippi River and its tributaries
1.3.3 Establish dedicated public and private funding for implementation, maintenance,
marketing and education of the regional green space network
1.3.4 Align municipal and county policies regarding recreational use, trail construction, open space conservation, stream buffers, and floodplain protection
1.3.5 Coordinate operations and maintenance planning of facilities that cross jurisdictions or could be co-managed

The foundation for the Mid-South Regional Greenprint Consortium was the Mid-South Greenways Steering Committee, an ad hoc group of parks and greenways stakeholders formed to share best practices and develop a shared vision for connecting green space across the tri-state region. Several of the groups that make up the steering committee and Consortium are responsible for implementation of greenways development. However, all focus on a limited geographic scope within the region.

In order to successfully transition from planning to implementation of the Greenprint, a central coordinating entity is needed to ensure the implementation of the green space network over the next 25 years.

The primary responsibility of this entity would be to facilitate the development of the green space network, either through direct implementation or assistance to other implementing organizations. This includes development, management, policy, and fundraising. The central entity would be charged with working across public, private, and nonprofit sectors to ensure implementation.

The development process for trails will vary from community to community and from project to project, especially depending on the work already completed to-date for each segment of trail. Costs can vary widely based on project specifications, but it is estimated trail construction in the Mid-South will average $777,000 per trail mile. This cost does not include design, site acquisition, or maintenance. The benefits associated with development of greenway trails can far outweigh the costs, including gains in property values, public revenues, jobs, new businesses, and new development.

Detailed guidance on implementation costs, guidance for trail network operations and maintenance, site acquisition, and funding can be found in the Greenprint Funding Guide.

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