Jackson Morrow Park Thoroughfare: NO

[From Connect Column Archives]

Thoroughfare The Webster Street through Jackson Morrow Park controversy coupled with talk about a road to connect the Webster extension through Jackson Morrow Park to private commercial property under development and the questions about wetlands raise all sorts of issues. These include private verses public rights, recreation resource planning, preservation of wetlands, and what ‘growth’ is in the best interest of all of Kokomo’s citizens.

I will leave the wetland discussion for a later day. Let it suffice to say for now that wetlands are important, no matter how small an area they involve.

What about recreation resource planning? I took a drive to take another look at Jackson Morrow Park. About three-fourths of the park is open, meadow-like, land with a few planted trees here and there. The remaining one-quarter bounded by Center Road and Park Road is wooded. There are a couple of picnic shelters in the open area along with a parking lot and the Kirkendall Interpretive (or Nature) Center nearer the southwestern areas. There are as yet no ball diamonds, basketball courts, soccer fields, tennis courts, designated trails except in the woods, play equipment for children, botanical gardens or specifically designated natural areas, or other amenities one commonly finds in urban public parks. All of these features are possible and many are already planned for the future if the Park Board has the budget and inclination to move in these directions, provided the character of existing park grounds is not substantially altered.

Then there is the proposed Webster Street extension. This is interesting. It appears this extension would lop off about the eastern one-quarter of the park. If this extension is supposed to relieve traffic from Alto Road as suggested, one must assume there would be many automobiles moving north and south through the park daily. Somehow, I have great difficulty understanding how through traffic would enhance use of the park for recreation. Maybe the park could use additional interior access by road, but this could be provided by a meandering road, say from Webster or Center Road to Park Road, containing some serious speed bumps for speed control, as opposed to a road designed to move traffic quickly and efficiently through an area. I know which type of through road, if there has to be one, I would want if my family or small children were using the park for play. And, maybe there need be no through road at all.

As to the proposal for road access from the west side of a commercial development plot through the park to join with the proposed Webster Street extension, I hope the city will not give it another thought. An additional connection to a Webster extension would only compound an already bad situation. There is presently a conflict of goals: moving traffic rapidly through a recreation area verses enhancing recreational grounds for people in Kokomo. Why add more to the mix by granting private commercial property access, which can only increase through traffic, through Jackson Morrow park? Urban recreation land is already difficult to come by. Why compromise it at all?

Given the fact the private commercial developer involved, Dick Scoggins, has been successful in real estate development for many, many years in Kokomo; one must assume he already considered and planned for proper access to his commercial property long before now. His original plan most certainly would not have made the only good option for proper access to his property being through a city park on a road that does not exist to another road that does not exist through the same city park. That would not have been good business planning.

There are clearly conflicting interests involved in this entire matter. At one pole are the folks who want the park to be left as it presently is. At the other pole are those who desire the expansion of roads through Jackson Morrow park, believing the proposed roads would enhance the park. My guess is that a middle ground is going to be most difficult, if not impossible, to come by.

Outdoor recreation raises the spirit. Public lands for recreation are vital for the health of a community. To compromise the value of existing recreational resources both for now and the future does not make good sense.

Not constructing a thoroughfare through Jackson Morrow park, thereby preserving it solely for recreational development, is the decision that is in the best interest for the longest time of the most folks in our community. It is the decision, too, that does the most to honor the wishes of the Kirkendall family who did so much to bring the Jackson Morrow park into being in the first place.

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About Kent Blacklidge Ph.D.

As part of a newspaper family who owned a 34,000 daily newspaper in the heart of the Midwest, I have a passion for a strong “Fourth Estate”, the press. Without a diligent and assertive free press, the power would be taken from the people. People have the absolute right to know. After earning a degree in Industrial Management from the Krannert School of Management at Purdue, I spent over 20 years in newspaper management with several as publisher. I am also holder of three graduate science degrees including a Ph.D.. I have a passionate interest in science and the environment. I have little tolerance for ignorance and stupidity.
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