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Gary looking at letting some parks back to nature

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GARY — The city could reduce its total number of parks, while revamping some that have been neglected for a long time.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the parks are being examined to see whether they are actually serving the residents in light of the decreased population of the city.

Parks Superintendent McKenya Dilworth said as many as 20 of the city's 57 parks could be allowed to revert to their natural state. Both Dilworth and Freeman-Wilson, however, added that any decision would be made in consultation with the council and residents.

Committees have been formed in each of the six City Council districts to work on the formation of a master, or strategic, plan that will serve as the guiding document moving forward when it comes to the parks, Dilworth said. The process started last October and Dilworth said it is hoped that something can be presented to the council by May.

Council members representing the six districts were asked to select five residents to serve on the committees, Dilworth said. There is still a need for additional members, however, particularly for the 4th and 5th districts. Residents interested in participating should contact the parks department at 219-886-7099.

Dilworth said even if some of the parks are allowed to revert to nature, it doesn't mean the land won't be maintained.

Some of the land might be used as wetland mitigation to offset impacts caused by developers. In these cases, developers would provide money to help maintain the green space, Dilworth said. Some of the money then could be combined with grant funds for such projects as removal of invasive species, she said.

The land also can be used as green infrastructure, for example, to help reduce the amount of water going into the city's stormwater system.

While some parks may be allowed to revert to their natural state, Freeman-Wilson said there has been some restoration work undertaken to restore some neglected, overgrown parks.

Freeman-Wilson and Dilworth said one of these parks was Diamond Park at 2400 Industrial Blvd. Dilworth said a resident brought the park to her attention when she was working on another project.

The area was so overgrown, she at first had doubts whether there was a park there. Once she stood on top of her car, however, she was able to spot a basketball court and playground. 

"It's breathtaking and it's huge," she said.

Dilworth said she thinks picnic shelters eventually will be located there as well as at some other parks to increase park use by the public and to increase revenue for the department.

The parks department also hopes to increase the number of pools available for residents this year from three to four in addition to the splash pad at Buffington Park. Dilworth said the plans are to have all those facilities open by the time school lets out this year. The pools are at Roosevelt, Tolleston, Howell, and Reed parks.

Dilworth said the city also has started an aquatics program, which she said Freeman-Wilson was very passionate about having in the community. She said the city is in the process of having as many as 40 children trained at the YWCA who can serve as lifeguards at the pools when they are ready to open this year.

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