‘It’s going to be beautiful’

Oleson Park midway through renovations

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Tyler Schadegg “fishes” with Kate, 2, and Will, 4, in the muddy area that will be a refined pond soon in Oleson Park.

By this time next year, Oleson Park will look a lot different.

Out of nine phases, three, four and five are on schedule to be completed by the end of 2019, when visitors can look forward to a refined pond, better accessibility for those with disabilities, smaller parking lots closer to the amenities of the park and interconnected paths that keep cars separated from pedestrian traffic.

Phase six for the pond is anticipated to be let for bids this week, according to Lori Branderhorst, director of Fort Dodge parks, recreation, and forestry.

Phases three through five, which Branderhorst said have been “lumped together,” are giving parking lots, sidewalks, pathways, trails and entrances a complete overhaul, stirring up dust over the dog days of summer.

The pond construction will be started in the coming months to be about halfway finished by December, sculpted with a natural, but refined landscape look. Finishing touches like koi stocking will be done in the spring.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Though the new pond at Oleson Park isn’t yet finished, it has collected enough rain to look like one for now.

“It’s going to be beautiful landscaping with pumps,” Branderhorst said, complementing the finished changes to the nearby deer area.

“It was the most uninviting,” part of the regional park, she said of the deer area, with barbed wire that made it look more like a prison than a park. “Of all the things we’ve done in here, I am the most thrilled about that being out of here.”

The nearby barn, currently red, will be painted with the new color scheme encompassing the park–shades of tan, white and brown. Painting started last year in-house with the department. The barn will also get a new concrete floor, restrooms and a hand-washing station.

Planning for the last third of the master plan, the final three phases, will be done during the winter.

“The majority of the big stuff is all going to be done by next year,” Branderhorst said.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
One of the early phases of the Oleson Park renovation included a new area for the deer, which gives some areas of separation between males and females, allows for regeneration of grass and eliminated unsightly barbed wire fencing.

They are also developing a new memorial plan, possibly including pavers or columns, that will replace the tree and bench memorials that had to be removed.

The barn and memorials are all on the “for sure” list for next year when construction ramps back up.

Branderhorst also said the city may consider whether to make shelters all-season facilities, such as the ones at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. Other various items could include removing older facilities as new building renovations are completed.

The overall vision, she says, is one that enhances the Oleson Park experience for Fort Dodgers and others out of town that come to Oleson Park, one of the oldest and largest parks in the city.

“This park has different experiences,” that draw people in, she said. Built in the 1930s with historical features like the bandshell, and other buildings added in the 1960s, the park is adjusting to modern trends.

“This whole thing didn’t flow,” she said. “It was a very tired park.”

The plan identified needs for more small parking lots closer to the amenities rather than a large parking lot, and new connectivity that could allow for safer navigation and integration with the city’s trail project, which will use park roads as part of its system.

More lights and security cameras will soon be added, as well.

“We’re really wanting to make it a safe environment,” Branderhorst said. “It’s going to enhance their experience here.”

Though disruptive for now, the city is taking the opportunity to ensure the memories made for Fort Dodgers of years past will continue to be there for future generations.

“We’ve never, ever in the Parks and Rec had this type of money thrown at one of our parks,” said Branderhorst, a 20-year veteran of the department. “We’ve been thrilled.”