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020819-mdn-park-plans

Morton County Zoning Director Natalie Pierce is working on a parks and trails master plan with a goal of enhancing the outdoor recreation experience for residents.

Morton County, in an effort to enhance its outdoor recreation offerings, is creating a parks and trails master plan, and is seeking citizen input.

“Whether it is additional parks, more trails, equine opportunities, skate parks, more boat ramps ... that people want, we are hoping to accommodate,” said Morton County spokeswoman Maxine Herr.

A 19-question online survey that will remain open until Feb. 27 is being conducted by the county, which plans to draft its master plan based partially on citizen feedback.

Anyone can take the survey, but the county plans to zero in on its residents.

“We would like the responses to be from as many Morton County residents as we can get, especially those who live outside of Mandan, because it’s a county parks plan,” said Natalie Pierce, Morton County’s director of planning and zoning. “But anyone’s allowed to take the survey. We pretty much want to hear from people who use those parks.”

One question on the survey reads, “What type of facility would you, or those individuals in your care, use most often if it were available in Morton County near where you live?” A designated horse riding trail, BMX park, additional snowmobile trails  and landscaped park are among the 13 options. There’s an area where participants can leave comments, as well.

“I think trails, certainly in the ETA area around Mandan ... that’s probably going to be something that we see in the surveys, is that people want more trails,” Pierce said. “And in Hebron, for a long time people have been asking for a trail that goes up to Fort Sauerkraut.”

She said another likely request is a designated area or trail for off-road vehicles at Harmon Lake.

“That is one thing that was brought up — could we have a designated area or trail for ATVs, so that people have a destination and then they don’t have to go rip up Harmon Lake,” she said.

At the close of the survey, Pierce plans to use the “most popular” choices in regard to recreation facilities to compile a draft plan, which will later include a map indicating where those potential facilities could be located.

“The main way we’re using the survey is to find out, ‘What do you want?’ and ‘Where should it go?’” she said, noting people will have the opportunity to provide additional feedback during public meetings in May.

Work on the parks and trails master plan began last spring, shortly after the county adopted a major update to its comprehensive plan, with the aforementioned being an objective of the latter.

Last summer, an inventory was taken of all the county parks, trails and boat ramps.

“Our parks director (Tim Nilsen) had gone out ... taking an inventory of all our assets in the parks — vault toilets, picnic shelters and stuff like that — to give people an idea of exactly what’s out there and available, what condition it’s in and a baseline of where we are right now,” Pierce said.

A steering committee composed of residents; city, county and state park officials; a North Dakota Game and Fish Department representative; and a Natural Resources Conservation Service representative was assembled in October, and the group held its first meeting in December. The committee plans to meet again in March and May.

The county’s park board, together with the county planning and zoning board, will consider approving the parks and trails master plan this fall.

Pierce says she feels the “tool” will be beneficial to the county.

“We want to make sure that as subdivisions are coming forward, we know where we’re planning for trail corridors to be,” she said. “And when funding opportunities come up, we’ll know exactly what plans we want to ask for funding for.”

The parks and trails master plan will include cost estimates for each potential new facility, but funding mechanisms will not be specified. Grants, fundraisers and an increase in taxes are potential ways to pay for the improvements, Pierce said.

“I think that in Morton County, people have a lot of opportunities to be active outdoors ... so just to make sure that we’re helping facilitate people’s ability to get out and be active in the county and just enjoy — we have a great, beautiful landscape — that everybody has an opportunity to get to see that and be in that,” Pierce said. “We’re trying to improve quality of life for people.”

For more information, or to complete the survey, call 701-667-3361 or visit www.mortonplans.org.

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Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.)

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General Assignment Reporter