More traffic could be coming to the county parks —though not perhaps the type of traffic that would normally come to mind.
Local remote-controlled vehicle enthusiasts Joe Owen and Darin Schmidt have been pushing for the creation of an RC Park in the community for a couple of years now, gaining some traction this past fall when they presented a proposal to the Parks Advisory Board. After much discussion, the advisory board approved a phased plan in April for the creation of such a site at Harvey County East Park, which was brought before the county commission for review on Monday.
Initially, the duo was asked to present a proposal that included everything on its wish list for RC enthusiasts, which was eventually scaled down to the development of a landing strip and rock crawling course (phase one), as well as a drone and RC car racing track (phase two) to be installed on 15 acres of land north and east of the bathrooms in the Bluestem area of East Park.
Currently, 25 acres of land at that location is used for harvesting hay, and Parks Director Kass Miller noted some of that land would remain intact for such use, but he also believes the county could recoup what income is lost through hosting events at the the RC Park and through membership (as insurance coverage through the Academy of Model Aeronautics is required to fly aircraft/drones at the potential park, which would be monitored the same way Parks staff keeps track of visitors with fishing licenses) — seeing great potential in this opportunity.
"It's kind of like the next disc golf. This is the next big hobby in my opinion," Miller said. "This could get a huge draw."
While Miller sees the benefits of this addition, the commissioners weren't without their concerns. Privacy and noise pollution were two major issues brought up by commissioner Ron Krehbiel, namely pertaining to the potential of opening the RC park up to drones.
Krehbiel questioned how many problems the cameras on drones would create, but both Miller and Owen noted that is not a standard feature on the models typically used in racing and there would also be designated "no-fly zones" for remote-controlled craft at the park (pretty much anywhere outside the RC Park).
Furthermore, Krehbiel worried about potential noise complaints that might be raised by campers, fishing enthusiasts and others going out to East Park to get away to a serene, relaxing environment. While commissioner Chip Westfall spoke to East Park's reputation as one of the noisier of the county parks, Krehbiel still took a trial and error approach to the potential project.
"I would say if we're going to do something like this, I would say let's do it for a year and not spend a heck of a lot of money," Krehbiel said.
Costs were another major factor in the discussion of the RC Park on Monday, with no commissioners willing to commit to too much of an investment in terms of startup. Miller noted, though, that projected overhead for phase one of the project is fairly low as he is hoping Parks staff can just smooth out the proposed landing strip with a weighted roller, while the rock crawler course can be constructed with material found in the park already (meaning costs would be limited to labor and equipment).
At the most, Miller is projecting an additional cost of $2,000 for grass seed on the landing strip if needed. While Miller proposed the Parks Department fund the initial work, Owen noted the upkeep is pretty low key and could be taken on by the local club once the RC Park is established.
"The reality is that the clubs that runs these fields through AMA actually do most of, if not all of, the work themselves," Owen said.
Eventually, Miller said the plan is to set up a revenue-sharing model with the club based on AMA memberships and any events the club hosts at the RC Park. Additionally, Miller said grant funds may become available to help with additional projects at the RC Park — to be approved by the Parks Advisory Board — like spectator stands, storage facilities, etc.
Remote-controlled boating was even brought up as another potential project by the commission and while County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber pointed out that no action was needed on Monday — with it set aside as a time to gather feedback for additional information the commission might request — it was clear there was a commitment to thoroughly vetting this opportunity.
"We have already learned folks, from a public vote," Westfall said, "that our citizens want to use our parks in multiple ways and we need to study this issue very closely."
In other business, the county commission:
Was notified that a proposal is being brought to the Parks Advisory board to allow hunting at Harvey County East Lake park and will come to the commission for discussion after review.
Learned from Department on Aging Director Robert Carlton that vouchers for the Harvey County Farmers Market will be distributed to qualifying individuals beginning in the first week of June.
Received notice from Emergency Management Director Gary Denny that the department is moving on to the next level of tabletop exercises, with the first such event scheduled with the multiple disciplines within the Hesston community on May 24. So far, Denny said there are 20 participants confirmed.
Heard a report on statistics from the month of April from Sheriff Chad Gay, which included 131 cases pulled within the department, 471 traffic stops, 66 tickets issued, 63 arrests, three non-injury accidents, eight injury accidents and six accidents involving deer.
Was informed by county counselor Greg Nye that based on letters being sent out informing individuals of the start of the tax foreclosure process, back payments have already been made for three properties.
Heard from Highland Township resident Stan Guhr during a citizen's forum, who spoke to the status of a stretch of NE 36th Street (between Sand Creek and Spencer Road) that was brought up at last week's commission meeting regarding potential road work. The maintenance responsibility was in question and while the county works out how it can get involved repairing said township road, Guhr noted how dire the need is — as he said washouts from last summer have not properly been addressed. Both maintenance and regular vehicles have gotten stuck on the road since and, especially after the rains this spring, Guhr noted the stretch of road has become a safety hazard. After initially addressing the township, Guhr called the county to discuss the issue and was directed back to township authority, who told him the status of the road would be reviewed. Based on Guhr's experiences, the road needs additional rock to be drivable and he was urged to try and illustrate that to the township authority — perhaps by having them drive the road after it rains — while the county continues to evaluate the situation and how it could offer assistance.