APA City Council and Mayoral Candidate Forum Question 1: Parks

Question 1:

Many of our natural areas in our parks, Brookside, Emma McCarthy Lee, Munn Woods, Carr Woods, and Ada Hayden Heritage Park are being neglected and invaded with invasive species.  Would you favor establishing a Natural Areas Custodian position to manage these areas with professional care?

Rob Bowers

I tried to reach out to staff to discuss this issue to learn more about it.  However, given the short turnaround time that we were given to complete these questions, I was not able to speak with anyone.  In order to answer this question as it was posed to us, we would have to accept the two ideas that the City of Ames parks are neglected and by at least inference, not managed with professional care.  I’m not willing to accept either of those without doing some due diligence on my part first.  I would prefer to speak with staff and possibly others to find out the extent of the possible problem and then work together towards a solution.  To me, beginning from the idea that our parks are being neglected and are not managed with professional care does not present a good starting point from which to begin working together to develop a solution to whatever the problem might be.

Amber Corrieri

Earlier this year, council approved an additional FTE in Parks and Recreation as well as the reorganization of staff duties in the Public Works Department.  A full-time forester position was approved, along with the reclassification of the current position of turf specialist to turf supervisor.  These two positions will provide oversight of tree and turf maintenance in city parks and along the right of way.  The new urban forester position will be responsible for overseeing the city’s response to Emerald Ash Borer and addressing the long-term health of our forest areas.  The forester and turf supervisor, combined with Parks and Recreation’s current collaboration with Iowa State University experts will provide the resources necessary to assure that our parks are well maintained.

David Martin

Yes: this is an idea that we should pursue. In August I met with some Ward 3 residents who took me down to inspect College Creek near their home. After workers had performed important engineering improvements to the creek bed, the Earth was apparently left open and fertile, and as a result, it attracted whatever would grow fastest. The Siberian Elms that had taken hold looked like they would soon be large enough to topple the boulders that stabilize the bank. While I was relieved to see that some trees had been culled on a recent return visit, this area still feels weedy and neglected.

While maintaining the built environment like pavements and lawns is important, it’s a very different activity than being a steward of a natural area, monitoring and responding to its changes and continually nudging it towards a healthy equilibrium. Natural areas are not only important habitats for wildlife, but also important destinations for people who find comfort, delight, and strength in the raw world. Knowing what to thin or remove, what to burn, and what to coax ahead helps keep our parks vibrant and full of life.

John Haila

I contacted Keith Abraham, Director of Parks and Recreation, to obtain additional background information on this issue. Keith said there are ongoing concerns and issues with invasive species overtaking native vegetation and forested areas within the park system. In an attempt to help address the spread of this vegetation, Keith said that the City has been investing staff time and joining forces with volunteer groups to try and make an impact on these unwanted species. Keith shared that they tried one creative way to help address this invasion this year – “Goats on the Go.” Parks and Recreation has also been partnering with the Army Corp of Engineers to help with management, and with faculty from ISU and other interested and qualified volunteers to establish a management plan.

However, Keith said that the invasive species is just one of multiple issues that the City wants to address related to being more proactive in managing woodlands/natural areas. To that end, a new position of City Forester has been authorized and as Mayor I will recommend that invasive species management /control be included within the Forester job description. I was most pleased to learn that this position had been approved. I fully support the proactive management of our woodlands/natural area; including the control of invasive species. Be assured, I will continue to be a champion of every facet of our beautiful park system. Ames parks’ are a jewel within our community and as Mayor I will strive to ensure they receive the needed resources they deserve.

Victoria Szopinski

We need to balance “Parks” and Recreation” so the needs of all community members are fulfilled. We need to encourage an understanding of the importance of preserving and maintaining our natural areas as it relates to the global impact. Aside from the opportunities offered for hiking, biking, bird-watching, etc., habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to species diversity and the natural world, occurring when natural land cover, is destroyed, fragmented or degraded, usually as a result of human activity. Just as any political activity in the United States is also happening in Ames, all concerns of natural areas and habitat maintenance should also be addressed, especially in an educated/university community.