Washoe County's Park Maintenance Problems - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Washoe County's Park Maintenance Problems

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The recession may be long gone, but you can still see the after effects at Washoe County parks. Their budgets were cut by more than half, and recovery has been slow. 

Like most parks in northern Nevada, Rancho San Rafael was once a working ranch. You can still see the ranch manager's house, moved next to the family ranch home. Nathan Daniel of the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation tells us, "It was mostly pasture land for the most part, and it was all ditch irrigated at that time. You didn't have sprinkler heads."

Nathan sees history and beauty in all our parks. He never takes scenes like these for granted. But what he's seen over the years has been upsetting. He pointed to a large field of green and yellow next to a foot bridge: "What we are left with here is this invasive species patch. All this stuff down here, that yellow, that's called Tansy Mustard. It’s highly invasive."

Rancho San Rafael covers 570 acres. It's a huge job and expense to maintain parks like this, and it has not been easy. When times are tight, park money is among the first things cut from the budget. Washoe County Parks Superintendent Colleen Wallace-Barnum told us, "Unfortunately we are a non-mandated service, so non-mandated services do take larger cuts. Parks and libraries took significant cuts."

Over six years, money for Washoe County parks was cut 60%. For park goers, it was a distressing time. Trails were no longer maintained. Buildings and parking lots deteriorated, and some parks were left open overnight. Nathan Daniel says, “That means vandals can get in, and it does happen so you see an increased amount of graffiti."

But the county says work is being done on projects that are not so visible. Here at Rancho San Rafael, the entire irrigation system is being replaced. Wallace-Barnum told me, "We're making it more efficient, so we're able to use ditch water rather than domestic water so we're going to be able to save the county some money that way."

And the parks may get a lot more. The proposed county budget for the next fiscal year sets aside $16 million for improvement, at all 27 Washoe County parks and open spaces. Nathan says that doesn't cover everything: "The problem is those monies are just going to shore up the infrastructure that has deteriorated over the last 10 years. There's no additional money going for operations."

Wallace-Barnum agrees, to a point: "We didn't receive any additional funding for staffing or services and supplies. But what that money does do for us is provide us the opportunity to take care of our critical infrastructure needs."

How can we get the money for the maintenance and the staffing and the supplies back? Her response to that was, “I wish I had the answer to that. We'll just keep asking." For those who love our parks, an answer can't come soon enough for park lovers like Nathan: "We need to build these back up and make parks an essential service in our community."

The next step for the $16 million for park improvements comes during the May 23rd Board of County Commissioners meeting and public comment, before the vote is taken to approve.

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