With its meandering paths, great expanse of green, vintage agricultural tools and venerable donkeys, Bol Park has remained a refuge from Palo Alto's fast-paced and car-choked environment for more than 40 years. But now, as the City of Palo Alto is updating its 25-year Parks and Recreation Master Plan, how Bol Park's character might change -- or be preserved -- has become the subject of discussion in the Barron Park neighborhood.
The city is planning to upgrade its 35 parks, community centers and playing fields to better meet people's interests and needs. The public can comment on the city's draft concept plans for parks and new facilities amenities, which will be part of the master plan, through July, said Peter Jensen, city landscape architect. The city will conduct formal public meetings and reviews when a new amenity or feature is to be added to a park, he added.
Barron Park residents, for whom Bol Park means so much, are taking the process one step further. The neighborhood group, Barron Park Association, has formed a committee to work with the city to make sure that upgrades address community concerns. Chaired by longtime resident Richard Placone, who was at the forefront of the park's creation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the committee of seven volunteers had its first organizational meeting Wednesday. Other residents are invited to join, Placone said.
The Bol Park concept plan, which only shows new and not existing amenities, includes new expanses of native plants along Matadero Creek and the Bol Park bike path up to the creek bridge; three creekside lookouts; an expanded picnic area; more natural play structures in the playground; an adjacent adult fitness area and a restroom on the triangular Laguna Avenue end of the park.
A bike "pump track," a series of humps and meandering tracks for dirt bikes, would replace several mounds of dirt currently used by kids as a de facto track.
Bol Park was once land belonging to Cornelis and Josephine Bol, who also maintained a donkey pasture. Old farm equipment and two donkeys, Perry and Miner, are still a part of the landscape. Residents have cared for the animals and also installed native plants to improve wildlife habitat.
Many residents have expressed to the city their concern that the park should remain a rural gem and not be overdeveloped, Jensen said. The city has received many negative comments about the pump track. Jensen said that some elements of the plan, such as the pump track, could be reduced in size or even eliminated entirely.
Doug Moran, a Barron Park resident who has been involved with both the donkey handling and native plantings, has a number of questions about the proposed changes.
Moran expressed concern that the creekside path, which is labeled as not ADA accessible, might face elimination. The creek path "is important to many pedestrians, especially those walking for exercise, to avoid near-collisions with bicyclists," he said.
But most of his concerns relate to the bike pump track, which could greatly increase conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians. Many pedestrians are families with small children and strollers, seniors and persons from the Veterans Administration grounds with disabilities, he said. Some have reduced hearing and vision and are unable to quickly move out of the way of bicyclists.
The size of the proposed expanded picnic area also is not clear, he said.
"The parking for Bol Park is very limited and already heavily used on weekends. Parents with small children need to park close in," he said. If the larger picnic area attracts more people, then current park
users could be affected.
Placone said the Barron Park Association committee wants to address concerns such as Moran's and others' and help craft a park design that will meet people's needs -- and also preserve the features of Bol Park that people love.
The parks concept plans can be viewed or commented upon by going to paloaltoparksplan.org. Anyone interested in joining the committee can contact Dick Placone at firstname.lastname@example.org.