By Wade Coggeshall
— The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on what it wants with Hendricks County's next park.
The county's Parks & Recreation Department has hired Rundell Ernstberger Associates LLC to craft the master plan for W.S. Gibbs Memorial Park. The firm was charged with the same task for McCloud Nature Park in 2008.
Gibbs is a 140-acre property in the southwest corner of Washington Township off of Gibbs Road and south of County Road 200 South. Geographically, it's near the county's center.
"Three of our four biggest communities are within a 10-minute drive of the park (Avon, Plainfield, and Danville)," said William Roche, the parks department superintendent.
The acreage was sold to the Hendricks County Parks Board at a bargain rate by John and Lydia Gibbs in 2010. In appreciation, the county chose to name the park after John's grandfather.
Formerly a family farm, about 100 acres of the property is farmland that includes vegetated fence rows with mature trees that, according to a completed environmental survey, are worth saving. The rest of the acreage is woodlands that run in the center alongside a stream.
"There will be a natural element, but there will also be opportunities for various types of recreation that are not sports-specific," Roche said.
That's where community members come in. They'll have an opportunity to offer suggestions on amenities they want in the park during a public meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 22 in rooms four and five of the Hendricks County Government Center, 355 S. Washington St., Danville.
The expectation is that Gibbs will have open fields that visitors can play sports on. There just won't be specific facilities like baseball diamonds or football fields.
"Other than that, if they want something that can conceivably be done in a nature park or community park, we want to hear about it," Roche said. "This is more of a massive community park that has a natural element. Really what we're hoping to hear is a bunch of ideas and a bunch of feedback."
Gary Emsweller, president of the Hendricks County Parks Board, says the process for Gibbs is similar to the one conducted for McCloud.
"In most cases, it was very positive," he said of that park's creation.
In fact, soliciting public feedback on a new park isn't required by law.
"In the long run, this actually saves us money," Roche said. "And hopefully it gives the public exactly what they want."
Those unable to attend the public meeting may also leave comments on the project's planning website at www.reasite.com/w-s-gibbs (which can also be found on the parks department's website at HendricksCountyParks.org), on the Hendricks County Parks & Recreation Facebook page, and by e-mailing the parks department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The master plan for Gibbs park is expected to be done this summer.