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North Albany Park (copy) (copy)

Upgrading or replacing the picnic shelter is one of many changes in a $600,000 package of improvements to North Albany Park approved on Tuesday by the  Benton County Board of Commissioners.

Sometimes a park needs a little extra attention before it can begin reaching its full potential.

That might be the case with North Albany Park, the 35-acre parcel located at 2800 Hillcrest St. The park opened in 1970, when North Albany was mostly a sleepy rural area.

But the character of North Albany has changed dramatically over the decades: After years of steady residential development, the community was annexed into the Albany city limits in 1991. Since then, according to a staff report by the Benton County Natural Areas & Parks Department, another 1,600 new homes have been built and North Albany’s population has topped the 8,500 mark. It is, as North Albany residents like to remind the Benton County Board of Commissioners, the second-largest population area in the county.

But North Albany Park finally is due to get an overhaul, with the Benton County commissioners this week approving a new master plan calling for some $600,000 in improvements to the park. Although the work probably is overdue, the timing is good for the project, since the park grew to 35 acres last year after developer Myles Breadner donated two parcels of land totaling 13 acres to the county. The additional space gives park officials a larger canvas with which to work.

Phase I of the plan, which should be completed this summer, involves building footpaths around the perimeter of the park and through 10 acres of woodland donated by Breadner at the corner of Valley View Drive and Crocker Lane Northwest.

The plan also calls for new pedestrian entrances to the park with links to walking and bicycling paths in the area.

Future phases of the plan, which park officials say will be carried out over the next six years of so, include:

• Upgrading the existing play area and adding a second playground.

• Expanding parking capacity.

• Modifying or replacing the existing picnic shelter and adding picnic tables throughout the park.

• Replacing the current restroom facilities.

• Making the park more accessible to people with disabilities.

• Replanting areas where more than 300 insect-damaged and weather-stressed Douglas fir trees were removed last year.

• Installing new lighting and other measures to improve public safety.

While some money already has been budgeted for the project, much of it remains unfunded; Benton County parks officials said they would be applying for grants to cover some of the costs.

One of the things potential funders will want to see from those applications is evidence that Benton County is cooperating with other jurisdictions, most notably the city of Albany, on the project. In part, that's because the park has been a bit of an orphan over the decades — located in Benton County, but within land annexed by Albany. 

But the signs for cooperation are promising. The city of Albany Parks & Recreation Department has agreed to provide some in-kind services as early as this summer in the form of crews to work on trail-building projects. (The deal allows Benton County to use the value of that labor as local matching funds when it applies for grants.)

In addition, Albany officials said, some elements of the North Albany upgrade — the new picnic shelter or new playground equipment — could qualify for funding from Albany's pool of systems development charges. For that to happen, the North Albany work would have to be included in Albany's parks master plan, which is being updated, and the entire plan will have to be approved by the Albany City Council.

The good news is that all of that seems to be a good bet. 

The mid-valley prides itself on its system of wonderful parks. These recent actions help pave the way for North Albany Park to fulfill its potential and take its place as one of the mid-valley's premiere parks. It's been a long time coming. (mm)


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Managing Editor