Wesley Deist Aquatic Center

Dani Harris, 9, swims during the Kids Tri Harder triathlon at the Wesley Deist Aquatic Center in August 2018.

Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation has released a survey of residents’ needs and attitudes toward investment in the city’s parks, programs and facilities.

The survey found that residents are generally satisfied with parks, but they want more investment in trails and aquatic facilities.

The Parks Department survey is meant to inform a comprehensive plan that the department is in the process of organizing, according to PJ Holm, Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation’s interim director.

Additionally, a statistically valid survey is required by standards of the Commission for Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies, a nationwide parks accreditation agency, which Idaho Falls hopes to join for the first time.

The Parks Department’s goal was 375 survey respondents, and it surpassed it, with 504 respondents. The survey has a 95 percent level of confidence and 4.3 percent margin of error. Surveys were submitted via mail and online.

“That shows our community is very engaged and wants to be part of the conversation,” Holm said. “We want to encourage them to be part of the conversation and stick with us as we move forward.”

The majority of respondents, 71 percent, said they are satisfied with the overall value of Idaho Falls’ parks. Seventeen percent said they are very satisfied. Twenty-two percent were neutral, 6 percent were dissatisfied and 1 percent was very dissatisfied.

Holm said he’s not surprised by the high satisfaction response, despite being understaffed and working with a small budget.

“We have some amazing staff — (71 percent satisfaction) doesn’t surprise me for that reason,” Holm said. “But there’s always room for improvement. We want that 71 percent to be ‘very satisfied.’”

Idaho Falls residents use parks often, according to the survey.

More than three-quarters of respondents said someone in their household has visited parks at least once per month in the last year. Twenty-eight percent said they visit the parks one to three times per month, 24 percent said two to four times per week, 18 percent said once per week, and 8 percent said more than five times per week.

Among the 3 percent of respondents who said nobody in their household has visited a park in the last year, their top reasons were distance from their residence, lack of parks’ features and lack of personal awareness of parks or trail locations.

Programs

Nearly three in four respondents rated the quality of Parks and Recreation programs — that they have participated in — good or better. Sixty-two percent said the programs are good, and 21 percent said they’re excellent. Fourteen percent said programs are fair.

The top two recreation programs that respondents said are important and necessary were community special events and adult fitness and wellness programs.

Facebook was the top response to a question asking which method of communication people most prefer to find out about Parks Department programs. Each of the top three responses — website was second and email was third — were online communication methods.

Nearly half of respondents who have not participated in Park Department programs in the last year said they don’t know what is offered. Thirty-four percent said they are too busy or not interested.

Holm said the Parks Department will focus more on digital communication, following the survey results.

“We are going to have to reevaluate the way that we reach out to folks and step up our game to get more information into more people’s hands,” he said.

Facilities

Idaho Falls residents want the Park’s Department to improve trails and aquatic facilities, according to the survey.

Respondents said trails are the most important of the Parks Department’s facilities and that they are most willing to support and fund actions related to trail additions or improvements.

In response to a question asking which facilities are most important to households, multi-use paved trails topped the list. Forty-one percent of respondents listed multi-use paved trails in their top four. Multi-use unpaved trails were third on the list, with 22 percent of respondents listing them in their top four.

Paved trails are accessible to a wider array of transportation methods than unpaved trails. Scooters, skateboards and roller blades, for example, can’t be used on unpaved trails.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said they are at least somewhat supportive of adding trails/walking loops to existing parks. Sixty percent said they are very supportive of that action.

Similar percentages were recorded for actions such as “develop new walking trails” and “improve existing trail system.”

“It comes down to: we fed an appetite for these trails and people want more,” Holm said.

People also want more aquatic options, according to the survey.

Idaho Falls has an aquatic center, which is 33 years old. But there, users’ differing pool preferences are at odds with each other, Holm said.

For example, lap swimmers and swim teams prefer the water to be cold, while recreational or therapeutic pool users, especially those with children, prefer it to be warm. The Parks Department decided to keep it somewhere in between.

Now people want a new facility.

The second highest response for a question asking about Parks Department investment priorities was outdoor swimming pools/water parks, which was behind only multi-use paved trails.

Outdoor swimming pools/water parks also was the second highest response for recreation facilities most important to households.

“What I would love to see would be keeping the aquatic center and building something else that would have those fun attractions and a therapy pool and something younger kids can play in without being too cold,” Holm said.

Another aquatic possibility, which received support in the survey, is splash pads, recreation areas, typically in existing parks, meant for water play.

Twenty-six percent of respondents listed splash pads in their top-four actions they’re most willing to fund. It was the second highest response, behind new walking trails.

The city plans to build a splash pad next year, Holm said.

In the meantime, the survey results will help with the Parks Department’s decisions regarding its comprehensive plan, Holm said.

“This plan is hopefully going to lead us to making a decision on the future of aquatics in Idaho Falls,” he said.

The comprehensive plan is expected to be completed in September.

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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