Dogs, canoes, trails, and trees: The public has spoken



After nearly a year of public forums, surveys, voting, and conversations, the park-going public has had its say on what to do with Covington’s expansive parks system.


And while there’s still opportunities to weigh in, one thing is clear: we love our dogs and our dog parks.


That’s one of the main takeaways from a draft of a comprehensive plan researched and produced by a consulting firm the city hired in 2019 to take a 30,000 foot view of the city’s parks system, a system that includes everything from the 700-acre Devou Park, which attracts people from all over the region, to the smallest neighborhood basketball court.


A dog park has been on residents’ minds for some time, said Neighborhood Services Director Ken Smith.

“We’ve heard for the last couple of years, loudly, that the residents want a dog park,” he said.

Covington does not currently own a dog park, and one in Pioneer Park, which is owned by Kenton County, closed a few years ago.

But there’s much more to the plan, which Smith described as “a final draft.” And Covington residents can still provide input.

To see the executive summary and action plan of the document, as well as provide feedback, click HERE.

Covington’s parks are open, but playgrounds, pools and shelter are closed due to Covid-19 pandemic. But the long-term planning goes on.

Covington has nearly 1,000 acres of parkland and green space spread out over more than 30 different parks, playgrounds and facilities. That includes about 700 acres that make up Devou Park and its golf course and biking trails.


The city directly manages about 30 facilities on nearly 200 acres, including the Licking River Greenway and Trails, the Riverfront Commons trail under construction, the Bill Cappel Sports Complex with baseball diamonds and soccer fields, two full-size swimming pools and a water park.


READ MORE: Marking a milestone in an urban trail system, the Licking River Greenway and Trails project

Seventy-nine percent of residents visited a park in Covington over the past year, the consultants found, and 40 percent of these residents visited parks more than 10 times. Devou Park was the most visited park (72 percent reporting visiting), followed by the Goebel Park Complex (43 percent).

Some of the public’s ideas in the detailed document include better canoe and kayak launching points, an indoor recreation center, more recreational activities in the southern and western parts of the city, better signs, more paved trail loops, more support features like drinking fountains and shade structures, youth sports leagues, and more concerts, outdoor movies, and special events.


“If you have kids or like to be outside, this plan has something - or more likely, a half dozen things - that will grab your interest,” Covington Parks and Recreation Manager Rosie Santos says.


She and Smith cautioned that the plan is not a must-do list, but rather a long-term vision that will guide decision making in the years to come and is dependent on budgeting and other factors.


“This should be a guide for future activity, future investment and future work plans,” Smith says. “While we don’t want anything that’s not actionable, it’s undoubtedly more than we can get done in a 10-year time frame.”

READ MORE: Spending time -- and money -- in Devou Park

The city began putting together the master plan in fall 2019 with the help of consultant Brandstetter Carroll Inc. In an attempt to understand why residents used or did not use parks and what residents would like to see, the process featured lots of stakeholder meetings, focus groups, hearings, surveys, and targeted outreach.


One effort asked participants how they would allocate $1,000 for parks and rec improvement. The top three winners were: Upgrade existing parks and facilities (which received 20 percent of the dollars); building new walking and hiking trails (18 percent); and an outdoor family aquatic center (13 percent).


The key findings across all the public survey methods were: upgrade existing parks; step up maintenance; and create dog parks at multiple locations.


After assessing the surveys and consulting with the parks steering committee, the consultant made 22 systemwide recommendations. The top three were: improve maintenance; figure out out how to better coordinate efforts among all the agencies and stakeholders that touch Devou Park (its complicated governance and legacy involves at least a half-dozen stakeholders); and adding features throughout the system, such as shade structures, fountains, security cameras and lighting and landscaping.


And yes, dog parks made the cut, coming in at number six.

City officials are still asking for public feedback on the nearly completed draft.


Public input is fundamental to everything we do,” Santos says. “Over 2,000 people participated by completing surveys and hundreds attended various stakeholder meetings. You spoke, we listened - and now it’s time for your final feedback.”


The Parks and Rec Division hopes to have all comments in hand by July 31, before it takes the master plan to the Board of Commissioners for its review, probably in early August.

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.