Fifteen people attended a public meeting held Thursday night in Sonora to tell officials with the Tuolumne County Recreation Department what they would like to see in a new regional park.
Among them were Boy Scouts Elijah Foye and Aidan Cannon, both 12, who said they felt there’s not enough places in the county for kids to go and just have fun.
“I think there’s not enough areas for kids, so they’re out partying,” Foye said.
Cannon added, “I have two younger brothers and want them to be able to do something other than miniature golfing.”
The meeting was one of series this week and next that the recreation department was hosting to gather input on a grant application they will submit to the state in June to build a park in the county.
People were told to dream big and not hold back Thursday because the county can apply for up to $8.5 million.
One of the Foye’s ideas was for a multi-level community center that could include a rock wall on the first floor, a laser tag arena on the second, and a hangout area with pool tables and air hockey on the third.
“I just went to Reno and climbed the world’s tallest rock wall, what if we tried to top that?” Foye said.
A community center and all-weather soccer fields were the two most wanted amenities that people voted for at the end of the meeting, followed by an amphitheater, bike trails, reservable picnic areas, a dog park, and indoor swimming pool.
Recreation Supervisor Eric Aitken said the meeting on Thursday night was the most well attended of the three hosted this week.
Aitken said officials are hoping for a larger turnout at the final meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday in the cafeteria at Columbia Elementary School.
The state requires officials to take pictures of the meetings to show how many people participated in the process, which is the largest factor that will be used in determining which applications get approved.
“It’s not about what the county wants, it’s what the community is going to use,” Aitken said.
Aitken said the county will take the ideas and work with Siegfried Engineering over the next few weeks to create some concept plans for the potential layout. They will then host another round of public meetings in February to get feedback on the designs.
The goal is to present a final proposal for the application to the county Board of Supervisors in May, which will include a plan for what it will take to maintain the park moving forward.
Much of the discussion between the public and officials focused on the proposed location, which will be on 10 acres owned by Sierra Pacific Industries across from Standard Park Sports Complex at Tuolumne and Standard roads.
“We’re going to try to cram everything into that box that we can,” Aitken said.
The land is connected to 40 additional acres owned by SPI that the timber company planned to deed eventually deed to the county after the development of its long planned Peaceful Oaks subdivision.
Aitken noted that much of the 40 acres is designated as open space that doesn’t allow for structures, but he said they could possibly get away with some walking trails and disc golf.
The county’s plans are not be confused with those of the Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that’s in escrow for 112 acres of the Sonora Union High School District’s Wildcat Ranch, which is located about a half-mile away from land owned by SPI.
Ron Patel and Gail Witzlsteiner, of The Park Foundation, attended the meeting Thursday night to hear the input from the community and make sure their plans don’t overlap.
“Too many parks is never a bad thing,” Aitken said.
One of the challenges in obtaining grants from the state is because they take into account the number of people living within a half-mile radius of the proposed location.
Aitken said the population living within a half-mile radius of Standard and Tuolumne roads would likely be similar to the number of people who attended Thursday’s meeting, so the goal will be explaining the rural nature of the community and how the park is planned to serve the entire county.
Tommy Firth, a coaching coordinator for Tuolumne County Youth Soccer, asked whether the park would be open for people to just go throw or kick around a ball or if a fee will be charged for use like at Standard Park Sports Complex.
Aitken said a competition-quality field would likely require the county to impose some sort of controls on who could use it.
“Unfortunately, in this community, if you have field without fences you get vehicles on them rather quickly,” he said.
This will mark the second time in recent years that the county has sought a grant from the state to develop the SPI parcel into a park.
The county was unsuccessful in applying for a $1 million grant in 2016, but that was limited only to soccer fields and basketball courts. It also required the county to provide matching funds, but the new grant does not.
Aitken said he expects the state to announce the first round of winners in September or October. If the county’s application isn’t approved, he said they will try again in the second round of funding.
Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat or (209) 588-4530.