Fairfield paying millions to boost parks that already rival bigger cities

The city of Fairfield has nearly 30 park properties in its portfolio and is in the midst of renovating its largest park. Pictured is one of several neighborhood, or pocket parks, in the city of Fairfield. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

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The city of Fairfield has nearly 30 park properties in its portfolio and is in the midst of renovating its largest park. Pictured is one of several neighborhood, or pocket parks, in the city of Fairfield. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

Recreational opportunities in Fairfield rival the amenities that are much larger than the 42,000-resident city, and it plans to invest more in the next several years to offer more.

The city is in the middle of the first of a multi-million-dollar renovation project with its largest park, the 200-plus-acre Harbin Park, and plans to renovate the 85-acre Marsh Park Lake within a few years. In the past 15 years, the city has invested millions in developing other park properties, including the FurField Dog Park, Huffman Park, and Village Green Park.

“Our parks are incredibly important to the sustainability of the city,” said Fairfield Mayor Steve Miller. “Quality of life is high on our list for folks that live here or come here, and we need to have a parks system to help attract and retain these people.”

The National Recreation and Parks Association shows Fairfield’s population is on par with the average size of its member agencies, but that’s where the comparisons end with an average NRPA agency.

The average parks agency manages 20 parks that comprise 437 acres, but Fairfield manages 28 parks totaling 619 acres, which doesn’t include the nine facilities, like the Community Arts Center, Elisha Morgan Mansion, the two Fairfield Greens clubhouses, and the aquatic center, that sit on a collective 198 acres. It also doesn’t include the 14 miles of trails around the city.

“Even though our agency is very large for a community of our size, we can go toe-to-toe with agencies that serve 60,000, 80,000 residential cities,” said Parks and Recreation Director Tiphanie Mays. “That’s how much we have.”

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The city of Fairfield has nearly 30 park properties in its portfolio and is in the midst of renovating its largest park.

The city of Fairfield has nearly 30 park properties in its portfolio and is in the midst of renovating its largest park.

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The city of Fairfield has nearly 30 park properties in its portfolio and is in the midst of renovating its largest park.

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The city celebrated on Thursday, April 20, 2017, a couple days in advance of the 47th Earth Day with its annual tree planting ceremony, which was made possible this year through a grant from Duke Energy. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

The city celebrated on Thursday, April 20, 2017, a couple days in advance of the 47th Earth Day with its annual tree planting ceremony, which was made possible this year through a grant from Duke Energy. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

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The city celebrated on Thursday, April 20, 2017, a couple days in advance of the 47th Earth Day with its annual tree planting ceremony, which was made possible this year through a grant from Duke Energy. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

The parks provide residents an indirect benefit, according to researcher John Crompton. He wrote several papers on the impacts of parks on property values, and concluded that parks have a significant positive effect on parks near homes. However, the caveat is they’re well-maintained and relatively private from passers-by.

Neighborhood parks include Good Neighbors, Lions, Oakwood, Winton Hills and Woodcreek.

Fairfield has one park for every 1,500 residents, a ratio that is closer to smaller agencies.

But the city’s recreation department has its challenges, Mays said. Part of those challenges came because the city’s recreation opportunities grew fast.

Jim Bell retired in April 2018 after 40 years with Fairfield, the last 32 as its second parks and recreation director. The city was just 23 years old in 1978 and leaders focused on growing quality of life amenities, Bell said in a 2018 Journal-News interview.

When Mays came into the city, there was what Bell called “an incredibly ambitious” parks plan for the next decade-plus, which included improvements at Harbin Park.

The total three-phase investment into Harbin Park will end up being between $4.5 million to $5 million, which includes $700,000 in state capital budget funds for a pair of Phase 1 projects.

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Harbin Park, Fairfield Ohio MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

Harbin Park, Fairfield Ohio MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

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Harbin Park, Fairfield Ohio MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

While the parks department considers trends in the industry and balances that with what residents want in the parks ― trails are the big push now ― Miller said past leaders set the city up for the developments now.

“They amassed a lot of land back then (in the 1970s),” said Miller. “They laid the groundwork for the future by acquiring the properties. They may not have known the full reason, but they knew if they captured that land we could do something with it someday. I think that’s exactly at happened.”


LARGEST PARKS

Here is the list of parks that are 10 acres and greater:

212 acres: William Harbin Park

85 acres: Thomas O. Marsh Park

30 acres: Muskopf Preserve

25 acres: Village Green Hillside Preserve

23 acres: Oakwood Park and Black Bottom Preserve

22 acres: Huffman Park

20 acres: Grange Park

15 acres: Creekside Park

10 acres: Fairfield Youth Football Fields, Fairfield Youth Playfields, Gilbert Farms Park, Hatton Park, Point Pleasant Park, Waterworks Park, Winton Hills Park

PARKS DEPARTMENT INVENTORY

840: Total maintained acres

37: Properties

26: Shelters

20: Diamond fields

18: Basketball courts

15: Playgrounds

15: Rectangle fields

12: Tennis courts

7: Gazebos

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