By Joe Napolitan
On May 6, the Combined Parks and Recreation Advisory Board agreed upon a sports complex concept for a proposed recreation park south of the existing Yamaguchi Park — an area known as Yamaguchi South.
According to the agenda brief for the meeting, THK Associates and town staff conducted public outreach efforts in February to gather feedback from the community about desired use of the property.
Included in the brief is a highest-and-best-use analysis conducted by THK “to determine alternative development opportunities for a variety of land uses. Uses considered include additional affordable/workforce housing, recreational vehicle (RV) uses, recreation center and general recreational uses to serve the community and visitors.”
The study concludes that “there are few advantages, if any, to develop non-recreational uses on the Yamaguchi Park property given the compatibility with the surrounding uses and physical challenges of the site.”
The information gathered was used to create concept plans for the town’s consideration. Included in the brief were visual layout samples of the four concepts, two of which were sports complex designs with the other two intended for open space.
The brief notes that “there is just not enough room for every recreational facility that the community expressed interest in at Yamaguchi South.”
“The big difference between the two open space concepts is one includes pickleball courts and the other does not,” explained Julie Gamec, senior project manager and landscape architect with THK Associates.
Pickleball courts were the meeting’s most heavily discussed topic in regard to constructing Yamaguchi South.
“Regardless of the design that is chosen and the incremental development of Yamaguchi South, the pickleball community has shown a presence and a consistency and a willingness to work with town to the point that I think they deserve pickleball courts sooner instead of later,” said Sally High, board member.
Board chair Amanda Gadomski pointed out that the pickleball group has formed its own nonprofit and has been raising funds to work with the town to get pickleball into parks, posing an opportunity for a partnership that could allow quicker implementation of courts.
She outlined advantages to collaborating with the pickleball community, such as hosting tournaments and bringing tourism dollars into the community if there were an official place that they can play.
“Most of our pickleball people go to other communities and play in tournaments,” Gadomski explained.
Town Parks and Recreation Director Darren Lewis emphasized the importance of settling on a location for the courts, stating, “I think one of the struggles for the pickleball group is they have raised a substantial amount of money so far towards this project but there hasn’t been a dedicated spot. It’s hard for any group to go and ask for money for a project and they [don’t have a location].”
“We are definitely recognizing the need and we definitely realize that there is a huge demand for it,” Gamec said. “There are other locations in already owned town facilities that pickle ball courts and tennis courts may be more appropriate. One of the questions [we ask] is, ‘Is Yamaguchi really the best facility to provide those operations when we have other opportunities?’”
“We certainly don’t have a budget for it yet, and it’s going to have to be a phased project,” Lewis said. “I have been looking at different areas of how we can get some of these amenities that are very popular to the public, how we can get them done quicker. One thing I came up with is possibly trying to locate the pickleball and tennis courts at another location.”
Gamec mentioned that the current front-runner for potential locations to build pickleball courts more immediately is the existing soccer field in Yamaguchi Park.
“Staff’s identified the current Yamaguchi Park; there’s room there to kind of tuck that in over there by the skate park on the soccer fields,” Lewis confirmed.
Lewis mentioned that in the likely event that building Yamaguchi South was a phased project, this would allow for pickleball courts to be implemented much faster without interfering with other programs.
“There would still be enough room left rec soccer,” Lewis said. “Say the first phase was to add the multipurpose field and the dog park. Until that phase was completed, it wouldn’t interrupt the rec programs.”
The motion expressed that the board was in agreement that the sports complex concept was preferred, so long as pickleball courts were included somewhere in the master plan, whether they be located at Yamaguchi South or another location.
The motion passed with four votes in favor and one against, with board member Larry Lynch voting against it.
In other business at the meeting:
• Lewis announced that “the Hermosa trail construction through Cotton Hole will start in the middle of May. Hopefully completion will be roughly in the middle of October for that. That’s that 10-foot-wide trail that will start there at Town Park and run down Hermosa Street through Cotton Hole Park and up to the 1st Street Bridge.”
• The board voted to approve of the construction of one Little Free Library at South Pagosa Park to assess whether or not installations at additional locations should be considered.
• The board voted to table plans for the Elysian Fields Wind Harp Proposal, requesting that a different location be found for the project due to concerns that the memorial might disturb local wildlife.
• The board voted to recommend that the town council approves of the Pagosa Springs Public Arts Plan.
The Public Arts Plan, according to agenda documentation, aims to “provide the structure necessary for a planned and coordinated approach to public art and ensure that the community clearly understand the Town Council’s, the Public Arts Committee’s and Pagosa Arts Initiative’s respective roles in facilitating more public art.”