A landscaped park, additional paved multi-use paths and more designated hiking trails are the top three desires for potential outdoor recreation facilities in Morton County, based on a survey the county recently conducted to help draft its parks and trails master plan.
“I was surprised by the No. 1 (landscaped park). Paths and hiking trails — that made perfect sense to me,” said Natalie Pierce, Morton County’s director of planning and zoning, adding she thought there’d be a higher demand for horse trails, which was the 10th most-requested facility.
About 500 people completed the survey, which closed March 15 after being open to the public for two months. Eighty-nine percent of the survey respondents live in Morton County — 56 percent in Mandan — with 11 percent living in areas such as Burleigh County, Hazen and Minneapolis. The majority, 44 percent, are between the ages of 30 and 45.
The survey was available online and 150 paper copies were sent randomly to property owners in every township in the county, aside from Mandan and its extraterritorial area. Forty-six paper surveys were completed and returned.
Forty-two percent of those surveyed said there is not an adequate amount of outdoor recreation opportunities available in the county, while 36 percent said there are “plenty.” Twenty percent complained that facilities are located too far away, or are inconvenient, for them to use.
The majority, 66 percent, said they’d be in favor of Morton County expanding its outdoor recreation facilities if the expansion is paid for by a means other than a tax increase. Fifteen percent said they’d be OK with higher taxes, while 18 percent said they’d rather see the county forgo an expansion and maintain its existing facilities.
“One of our next steps is pulling together a high-level budget of what these facilities could cost,” Pierce said, noting the potential facilities would likely be funded by several sources.
When asked what type of outdoor activities they most frequently engage in, 78 percent of those surveyed said walking or hiking. Told they could check all that apply, fishing or boating came in second at 60 percent, followed by visiting a playground at 49 percent.
Harmon Lake Recreation Area and Sweet Briar Lake were visited the most by survey respondents in the past year, with 61 percent rating their visit to a Morton County park or trail as “good.” Twenty-two percent said “excellent,” 16 percent said “fair” and 1 percent combined said “poor” or “very poor.”
Pierce said the county received helpful, specific comments via the survey. For instance, bikers who travel frequently between Judson and Sweet Briar requested the road be made safer for those pedaling on two wheels. Others requested more opportunities for shore fishing with their grandkids.
“The survey gave us a better picture of who’s using the parks,” she said. “Now that we know what people want, we’re going to ask, ‘Where? Where do you want these to go?’”
Those wishing to offer insights as to where an additional paved multi-use path might be located in the county, or what features should be included in a potential landscaped park are encouraged to attend public input meetings next month.
The first meeting is 5:30 is 7 p.m. May 20 in the enclosed shelter at the Eagles Park (Universal Playground), 100 14th St. N.E., Mandan.
A second meeting is 6 to 7 p.m. May 21 at the Hebron Community Center.
“We want to hear from people on what they’d like these facilities to look like,” Pierce said. “Our plan is only as good as the input we get.”
Work on the parks and trails master plan began last spring, and an inventory was taken of the county parks, trails and boat ramps last summer.
The county's park board, together with its 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.”
For more information, call 701-667-3361 or visit www.mortonplans.org.