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City parks boost local neighborhoods, economy
Columbia Park 1984
When Joe and JoLynn DiGrazia founded Westside Ministries in 1984 graffiti-covered buildings were not uncommon in Westside parks and public areas. - photo by Photo Contributed

With California in the midst of a drought and an ongoing statewide fight over water garnering national attention, much consideration has been focused on the landscape around Turlock — and City parks is no exception.  

While city residents have been asked to water on specific days and make concerted efforts to conserve water, the healthy state of Turlock’s parks has appeared paradoxical according to concerns that have been expressed to Director of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder.  In response to residents’ comments that the City is not obeying its own rules by watering the parks each day, Van Guilder explained that “many of our irrigation pipes are old and simply don’t have the water pressure to complete the watering on particular days.”

“We have cut back on water resources as much as we can, but the ultimate goal is to keep the parks green and usable especially in a time of drought so that those residents who are letting their lawns go still have a place to come and enjoy,” she said, noting that several parks operate on reclaimed water.

Water is not the only thing running short these days in Turlock as the Parks department has a staff of 10 full-time employees and six part-time employees to maintain and irrigate the 183 acres of city parks and landscape storm basins in the City of Turlock.

“Since the economic downturn we have been stretched pretty thin,” said Van Guilder.

According to Van Guilder, Turlock is still experiencing the fall out of the 2008 recession. Prior to the economic devastation that struck communities across the country, Turlock’s Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities department was thriving. With the number of parks rapidly increasing to keep pace with the development in Turlock, large plots of green land and jungle gyms could be found popping up across town.

While it may be a struggle to maintain the facilities during the drought and subsequent fallout of the economic downtown, the parks have since proved an integral part of life in Turlock often serving as incentive for businesses and residents to relocate to the area.

“The parks are viewed as not only a community investment but as an economic development driver,” explained Van Guilder.

With more than 25 parks at which to run, play, picnic, throw parties, and more, Turlock parks are more than a place to gather, but have also served to rejuvenate neighborhoods as evidenced by the revitalization of Columbia Park.

Earlier this month the City of Turlock hosted one of its National Night Out celebrations at Columbia Park. The national event allows local towns to celebrate their community while preventing crime by establishing better relationships with their neighbors. The scene of children jumping in the bounce houses and running through the spray park was a far cry from the image of Columbia Park in the 1980’s to mid-1990’s.

Prior to the park’s revitalization the bathroom facility at the park played host to illegal activity and vandalism prompting the City to remove it. With abundant crime and walls tainted with graffiti Colombia Park soon gained the status as an epicenter of crime on the Westside. However, this status began to diminish in the mid-1990’s as the City chose to invest in the park in an effort to combat ongoing crime. According to Westside Ministries Director JoLynn DiGrazia, the removal of the bathroom facility and the City’s initiative to promptly address graffiti by painting over it served as a catalyst for positive change.

 “If there was graffiti painted on a wall at midnight it would be painted over by 8 a.m.,” recalled DiGrazia.

In time the neighborhood was invigorated and the institution of the Spray Park in 2010 and the subsequent establishment of a new bathroom facility have drawn locals from across town to enjoy Colombia Park’s facilities.

“Improving Colombia Park really played a vital role in improving the entire area. People used to vocalize concerns about attending camps or swim lessons there but it is really not much of an issue anymore,” said Van Guilder.

While the parks do play an integral role in improving neighborhoods and generating positive economic development, the City’s ability to finance park improvements is often limited. In the aftermath of the economic recession the of Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Department has mainly been left with just enough funds to maintain the facilities currently in place with newer developments, such as the Swanson Centennial Dog Park, often made possible through private donations. While the City cannot solely rely on private donations, to augment necessary funds the Parks Department applies for grants which often restricts spending use to the lower socioeconomic regions of Turlock.

Most recently the City successfully applied for a grant from the California Department of Housing and Community Development which has allocated $443,100 to the City for the creation of a park on the Westside of town on Montana Avenue. With the provision that the funds must be spent by June 30, 2016, locals will soon welcome an additional park, but according to Van Guilder there is still work to be done.

“Since the downturn in the economy we’ve really been in a reactionary position to issues that crop up rather than working forward,” explained Guilder.

In anticipation of the eventual wear on more recent park facilities across town due to the closeness in proximity in which they were built,  Van Guilder intends to develop a plan that will eventually have funds available for more preventative measures.

“Our staff does a wonderful job of maintaining what we have, but eventually there will need to be a management tool in place where we can preemptively replace these facilities before it becomes a problem,” said Van Guilder. “We want to be proactive and look forward to getting out back to that pre-economic downturn time.”