The Westerville Parks and Recreation Department is set to kick off a trio of parks improvements that will provide three new outdoor activity options by the end of the year.
The new Sycamore Park will join a redesigned Olde Town Park and the extended Alum Creek Path as all three projects get underway this summer.
Sycamore Park -- set to begin construction in late summer or early fall -- will sit on the northwest corner of Africa Road and Polaris Parkway. The project won't result in an ordinary city park, but will give guests a glimpse of Westerville's ties to the Underground Railroad.
"The design behind that park is really to bring families together and to have the opportunity for children and families to interact, but also recognize the history of the community in terms of our role within the Underground Railroad," parks director Randy Auler said.
Auler said the park will feature educational panels about the Underground Railroad's history in Westerville and will be themed around the North Star, which escaped slaves used to guide themselves to safety in the north. There also will be a sculpture dedicated to the North Star.
The city is in talks to purchase the half-acre site from an office development, but did not disclose the potential purchase price. The overall cost of the project also has not been disclosed because the city has not begun the bidding process for design work.
Olde Town Park, situated at 108 Old County Line Road, might not be a newly created recreational facility, but Auler said it will look like one when renovations are complete in September.
Auler said the playground facilities are 10 years old and due for renovation. The new playground equipment that will be installed starting in August boasts more features and will have designated spaces for younger and older children.
"It will be a definite improvement because this will have 25 different play features on the structure itself," Auler said.
The project should cost about $62,000, Auler said. The bid for playground equipment was awarded to Snider & Associates at City Council's March 18 meeting.
After hearing positive feedback from the community and increasing emphasis on walkways, the city has decided to connect the Alum Creek Trail to Sharon Woods Park.
While the exact path has not been determined, the trail will go through property owned by Mount Carmel St. Ann's, which provided an easement to make the cross-through possible. Auler said Columbus Metro Parks will be a partner on the project, paying half of the costs.
The plan is in the early stages of design, but Auler expects to begin the bidding process in May, with construction starting in late summer and finishing by September.
All three projects are in line with the newly developed Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which gave the department insight into what citizens liked, didn't like and wanted from the city through an extensive survey. Auler said the trail extension is a direct result of that research.
"Pathways are the No. 1 thing that citizens really expressed desire for," he said. "So we're looking to continue to make connections for people to be able to connect to different locations within the community."