One of our favorite things about the work we do is the people and organizations we get to work with. In 2018, Austin Parks Foundation completed four park improvement projects thanks to a $210,000 Active Parks Project grant from the St. David's Foundation! With COVID delaying an official ribbon cutting and some additional community-initiated improvements coming this year, we wanted to make sure to tell the story of all the amazing work the community had already completed with us at North Oaks Park.
The initial St. David's grant was focused on providing physical activity, recreation and social connectedness through park amenities, but in the same year, APF was also awarded an additional $800,000 by the St. David's Healthiest Places grant to continue revitalizing parks in underserved Austin neighborhoods. This grant aimed to create healthier communities by improving access to great parks and outdoor spaces. It did just that for North Oaks Neighborhood Park!
The St. David's Foundation has been a loyal partner and shares in our goal of improving local parks, trails and green spaces to advance health and equity in the City of Austin. We're honored that they chose our organization to help them improved Central Texas and our green spaces!
In addition to funding from St. David's Foundation, APF added $180,000 from our Board Designated Funds, and a City of Austin Urban Forestry Grant for $10,500 brought the project total to over $360,000!
Plans & Development
To identify a park that would benefit the most from this new grant, we worked diligently with St. David’s Foundation, the City ofAustin Parks & Recreation Dept. and the Trust for Public Land to examine areas in need. After careful consideration, funding was awarded to North Oaks Neighborhood Park in order to make the greatest impact. This park was identified as high-need because it is in a park-deficient area and lacked high quality park equipment.
Park adopter Sarah Martin said the park “wasn’t quite enough to keep the attention span of kids,” as it was merely a space in the hot sun with a slide and a swing. In partnership with Sarah and local residents, APF and St. David’s Foundation felt the need to give this community what they truly deserved - an upgraded outdoor to welcome neighbors and visitors alike.
North Oaks Neighborhood Park prior to the park improvement project.
This project proved difficult to start as there wasn't an established Adopt-A-Park team for North Oaks Neighborhood Park. On top of that, APF didn't have an existing relationship with the surrounding community. The project could not go forward without community input, so APF staff began to canvass neighbors and invite them to community meetings. Connecting with the community was an essential step to bringing neighbors together around this important project.
The first community meeting was held on February 23rd, 2019, and included 30 local residents ready to give their input on the ways we could best renovate and enhance the playground and amenities at the park.
These community members were shown multiple options on the layout and equipment options that would fit into the budget and space that they voted on. This survey was also available online. We wanted to make sure we were able to get feedback on the layout and playground design options from as many people in the community as possible.
Options for the park improvement on location at North Oaks Neighborhood Park.
After surveying local residents, we determined that some of the existing concerns for the park included safety due to the lack of lighting at night, age-appropriate structures to improve mobility, and a need for more swings and slides. Community members asked for natural play elements, seating around the playground for parents and well-dispersed amenities to utilize the open space.
With the playground design officially chosen by the community, we went to work finalizing the plans for permitting and construction. We then hired contractors to complete the project, and construction began in late September 2019. All of the renovations were complete by December!
The Park & Improvements
A park that was once just a slide and a swing in the sun is now thriving with three unique play areas. “It’s awesome," says Martin. "Every time you go up there, there’s people there and it’s not like a ghost town.” The park provides a new opportunity for the community to host neighborhood events, birthday parties, and homeowner’s association gatherings.
The new and improved play structures chosen by the community and completed thanks to the generosity of St. David's Foundation.
Additionally, the improvements at the park have led to some committed community members officially adopting the park! The North East Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association (NEWCNA) has been overseeing the park since the improvements were completed. They even held an It's My Park Day project in Fall 2021 to build their new community garden beds!
Sarah Martin acts as the beautification chair for NEWCNA. She noticed that after the park project more people expressed interest in being members of the neighborhood association.
She said the park "fostered a sense of community in that things are progressing in our neighborhood toward change and toward new developments.” We are so excited to see what improvements the future holds for this community, and we're honored to be a part of bringing neighbors together!
Neighbors of North Oaks build new community garden beds during It's My Park Day Fall 2021!
A New Community Garden
Since the improvements at the park and the increased involvement of people that live nearby, NEWCNA decided to make another important addition to the park - a community garden!
“The park led to more interest, because of the improvements, to get together and do other things," said Martin. Although they're still waiting to get a water source to the garden, you can feel the excitement for the first planting season coming in spring 2022.
Martin is among the most thrilled. "I'm just excited! I cant wait until we're having food and potlucks and events that are centered around the garden, and we have places to sit where we can have all our neighborhood meetings,” she said.
The neighbors of North Oaks have grown this small park into a booming outdoor space and APF is eager to see the continued evolution of this park. Want to learn about our work in Austin's parks, trails and green spaces? Check out our blog for more stories and the latest news!