Since January, the Rhinelander parks public engagement task force has been preparing for the two meetings it will host this week at Rhinelander High School. The panel is hoping the sessions will provide data to be passed on to the city's parks, buildings and grounds committee at the end of May.
The group, made up of representatives from area groups that utilize the various city parks, will present a report on what city residents and other users of the various parks would like to see in the future. The group, led by Myles Alexander, community, natural resources and economic development agent with the Oneida County UW-Extension, is using the 2015 outdoor recreation plan the committee wrote as a starting point, but is seeking to expand upon that information. The goal of the parks committee is to take the information presented by the task force and use it to draft a parks master plan.
The task force met Thursday to make final preparations for the public meetings that will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 18 and 20 in the RHS commons. They fine-tuned their questions and brainstormed a final push to get the word out about the meetings, with fliers and via social media.
"We need to make sure it's clear that it's not just open to the city residents, but to any park users," Rob Deede said.
Alexander said the various groups that make up the task force have different needs from the parks, as well as their own agendas, but they have come together to work for all park users. Getting their members to show up at the events or do the online surveys is critical to ensuring a good result in their final recommendations, he noted.
"If the people that make up this group can agree to go back to the people that they represent and say, I think I can agree to this on our behalf, do you back me up? That is the point, trying to get many different kinds of people at the events," he said. "That is one of the reason that the demographic questions are there... because we want to know we're getting a broad representation."
They also started looking ahead to the task of compiling the data into a form that can be easily understood by the parks committee. Alexander noted that they gathered 80 surveys from area residents at the Hodag Home Show on March 18, and it took a couple weeks to compile that data.
Alexander also said that while the task force is hoping for a strong response to the survey, the results will not be scientifically accurate because it won't be a truly random sample.
"So that level of validity, it's not even a question," he said. "All we can say is we heard from X number of people; 100, 150, 212, however many people. So that's why the more we get, the better."
Deede said it is important to exhaust every possible way to reach the public.
"It is important to let people know this is their chance to offer their opinions," he said.
Alexander said that processing the data may require the group to meet more frequently after next week to tabulate all the information before their May deadline.
"That is because they are open-ended questions, which are much more difficult to tabulate," he said.
Alderman Steve Sauer, who is the city representative on the task force, suggested that the group continue after presenting their report to the parks committee in late May, even if they are do so in an informal way.
"We need to keep harassing them (the parks committee)," Sauer said. "We're getting the people's recommendation, we're getting what the people think, but if we (the task force) want to make sure those recommendations are followed, we need to stay on top of it."
If the parks user groups want to be engines of change in the parks, they are going to have to back it up with action, he added. He suggested that even twice a year meetings could serve as a way to make sure the parks committee follows through with what the task force recommends.
"I refuse to let it get swept under the rug, but I only have so loud of a voice," Sauer said. "I can only scream so loud and be listened to by so many people."
Deede said the busy time for most parks users is spring through fall.
"This kind of group should be meeting in those months to start developing the plan and moving it forward," Deede said.
The group's next regular meeting will be at 6 p.m. April 27 at the Curran Building.
In addition to the public meetings, the task force is also using PlaceSpeak, a computer-based online engagement program being piloted by the University of Wisconsin Extension to gather additional information.
Funding for the online engagement was made possible by a North Central Region Innovation Grant, according to Alexander.
The platform is user-friendly and free. It has been designed to work across all platforms, computers, tablets and smartphones.
To sign up for PlaceSpeak, registrants must provide an Oneida County mailing address. Alexander said that information is kept even from him and participants can remain anonymous.
"Anybody can visit the site, but to be able to answer the survey and take the polls, take part in the discussions, you have to have an Oneida County address," Alexander said. "I get their email but I get no other information, I can communicate with them."
Following Thursday's input session, the surveys will still be online at the group's PlaceSpeak account for a while longer. So people who can't attend either session in person, they can still provide input online.
Alexander also said he will post surveys that will give people an opportunity to rank various ideas online.
This will give the task force another layer of detail they won't be able to achieve in the 90-minute sessions. He added those people who sign up for PlaceSpeak will be notified by email of the new polls and surveys as they go online.
Alexander said that because PlaceSpeak can present results based on demographics, those results could also be presented to the various town boards.
To sign up for the task force PlaceSpeak, got to http://bit.ly/2mlRda. Information about the platform and how to sign up will be available at the public engagement sessions this week.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.
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