Appalachian State students present plans for parks to city officials

Published 7:08 pm Friday, May 4, 2018

Months of planning finally came to fruition Friday afternoon at City Hall.

Students from the Appalachian State University IDEXlab visited Elizabethton on Friday to present their final proposals of a masterplan of renovations at Edwards Island and Covered Bridge parks located downtown. The IDEXlab students included Madison Blair, Weston Byerly, Anna Cashion, Jackson Laing, Brianna Lance, Gabe Talavera, Dani Scaccia, Molly Ravenscraft and Nathan Smith.

Over the course of planning, the students worked alongside City Parks & Rec, volunteers and others to get the proper guidance needed to execute the proposals.

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“The professionalism of the faculty and the students themselves has been great. It is really encouraging to see the leadership they have,” said Mike Mains, Parks & Rec director. “This group of seniors will be graduating and moving on in the engineering profession. They’re quality people and have put in a lot of work to get this presentation together and we’re excited of what they’ve been able to accomplish. We really appreciate their hard work.”

During Friday’s presentation, which featured city leaders and state Rep. Timothy Hill, students went through a slew of ideas.

Some of the ideas brought up during the presentation included putting more focus on the south side of Covered Bridge Park, including additional parking at that portion and a new pavilion to go along with renovating the existing structure.

One of the key elements of the project was highlighting the Covered Bridge. The presentation included new lighting for the bridge to help showcase its appeal during all times of the day, for both the exterior and interior.

For the main portion of the park, students suggest three rows of tiered seating in front of the main stage, along with green space behind it which would be backed up by an improved walking path. The west bank of the park is also eyed for various improvements. One idea is to implement a plaza on the west bank at the entrance of the Covered Bridge and make the area more friendly for the public.

For Edwards Island, students proposed different items, including an extension to the Rotary Pavilion, a welcome center and moving the gazebo to a more visually-friendly area of the park.

According to the presentation, students are highlighting the Covered Bridge Park area as the hotbed of traffic for downtown while recognizing Edwards Island as better suited for a more “intimate” setting when it comes to events and other gatherings. Students indicated the area can be primed to attract more people due to its proximity to Cat Island, downtown, the Tweetsie Trail and having the Doe River flow through both parks.

Coming together for the project was a site to behold, according to ASU professor Chelsea Helms.

“We actually had to push our deadline two weeks and that’s something we normally don’t do,” Helms said. “But those two weeks really paid off. The students were wanting to make sure they had everything ready before presenting it to the city. It’s been amazing. It has been an ambitious project.”

During the project, students were able to incorporate feedback from the city along with 300 individuals who participated in an online survey to highlight what they would like to see accomplished at both parks. According to staff, the project was one of the largest performed by the IDEXlab from an acreage standpoint.

Helms and fellow professor Jamie Russell helped coordinate Friday’s event and were quick to point out the students’ initiative to do the project in phases for cost-effective reasons.

“They understand cities don’t just have large amounts of money sitting around,” Russell said. “They did a great job of researching ideas on how to phase projects in to make it cost effective.”

Having support from different entities is one of the key reasons why the Parks & Rec Department has been able to accomplish their recent stretch of projects at parks, according to the department’s director. And Friday’s event was just another example.

“Some of the most memorable projects have come from working with volunteers,” Mains said. “Whether it’s the Friends of the Park to Carter County Proud, they are key. With the IDEAS Group, they really stepped up to make this happen. We had a vision for these parks. Chris (Little) and other members of the group stepped forward and said they were willing to help. Ever since then, it has been a great working relationship across the board with everyone involved.”

Mains added the support for projects — past, present and future — has been made possible through the support of the city government.

“Over the last several years, the support they’ve given our department has been amazing and it is changing our community,” Mains said about City Council. “We’re able to improve the quality of life for our citizens and it is because of their help. It’s a pleasure to work alongside them, our Historic Zoning Committee and Planning Commission to make these events possible.”

As far as what’s ahead, the goal is to prioritize the items discussed during the meeting and see what can be accomplished over the years by the potential of phasing in the proposal.

The first phase of the project, which will focus specifically on the Covered Bridge Park area, is estimated to cost over $300,000.

“We know this can’t be done at one time,” Mains said. “We’ll start to prioritize, get with our Parks & Rec Board and start looking at projects we can address now and what our volunteers can do. There will be options available for funding either from grants or private donations. We’ll wait to get feedback from City Council and other departments before moving forward on any portions of the project.”