School district, some community members at odds regarding fate of Stanley Nature Park

Sara Naatz, Co-editor

The school district continues to modify plans for the possible attainment of the Stanley Nature Park from the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District. Meanwhile, community members protest the acquisition of the park, which would be added to the land of the BVHS campus.
At a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 28, the district outlined its current plans for the Stanley Nature Park. This plan would add 40 acres of land to the high school campus and include four practice fields for soccer and football, as well as two softball fields. There would be no artificial lighting in consideration of neighborhoods surrounding the park.
Approximately 4 percent of this acreage would also go to a new parking lot for BV students and would allow the school to re-stripe the main parking lot to widen spaces.
The pre-existing soccer and football practice fields would become a parking lot in the current plan.
At the public hearing, the district voiced its motivations for these additions to the BVHS property.
“We’ve received continual complaints about the parking lot at Blue Valley High School in a number of areas,” deputy superintendent Al Hanna said. “First of all, the size of the spaces. The spaces are very small. The distance between the rows is very small. We have continually restriped that lot to try to maximize the number of spaces that we can have.”
Hanna said the district hopes by adding more space for parking, it would improve safety and decrease the number of accidents in the parking lot.
Though the district plans to keep more than half the park in its current state, community members such as Matt Stueck, an active member in the Save Stanley Nature Park group, expressed concerns regarding the fate of the park.
“I think most of this group would say it’s OK to have some fields on the northern portion of the park,” Stueck said. “The problem is, once the school got it, they would have the whole thing at their disposal. There’s nothing to stop them. That’s just the reality.”
Stueck graduated from BVHS, where he took field biology and zoology.
“A lot of what I learned about nature, I learned as a student at the school using the park,” he said. “I think the school would be better off using it as a resource as they have now, which is as a nature park, and not as an extension of their athletic fields.”
The Save Stanley Nature Park group estimates approximately 34,000 visits to the park per year according to a car counter in the parking lot.
However, Scott Crain, Director of Design and Construction for the school district, said students parking in the lot during school hours crossed the car counter, thus distorting the number of apparent visits to the park.
“This likely increases what would otherwise be a valid count of visitors coming to Stanley Nature Park,” he said. “We also recognize that other visitors to our site, particularly during large events at the stadium, were parked in this area. That potentially skews that count of visitors to the Stanley Nature Park.”
The Parks and Recreation District plans to purchase two other parcels of land if the school district purchases the nature park for school use. These properties are located at 175th Street and Mission Road.
The district hired a conservation ecologist, Laurie Brown, to evaluate all three properties on their environmental values. Brown analyzed soils, ecological systems, wetlands, aerials of the parks and digital data in her research.
She then ranked each property on its resource types, resource conditions, location, accessibility and additional benefits. She shared these results at the public hearing.
According to Brown’s findings, the Stanley Nature Park ranked the lowest of the three properties overall, especially in resource type and condition. She attributed these low results to invasive species, those species not native to the area.
Brown also found Stanley Nature Park is less accessible than both other properties because it is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, and the only public access to the park is through land shared with the high school campus.
“It is not void of wildlife,” Brown said. “But this area is not providing prime habitat for wildlife. Because the site does not have oak and hickory, it does not have designated critical habitat for wildlife.”
The community members responded to this research in an open forum at the public hearing.
“Doctors talk a lot about treating the symptoms and not the patient,” Stueck said. “I think this natural resource assessment has done a very good job of looking at minute details. We need to take a holistic approach and look at the parts as a whole. Clearly, that shows the Stanley Nature Park is a much more valuable park.”
The district will continue to consider community members’ comments and adjust plans according to how it sees fit if the park is purchased.
“We obviously try to minimize the impact in terms of the area that’s currently there,” Hanna said. “That would be ideal from our standpoint, too.”


A timeline of the property exchange :

July 2011 — The Blue Valley School District notified the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District Board of its interest in the Stanley Nature Park
September 2011 — The school district presented a possible plan for the development of the park to the JCPRD Board
October 2011 — JCPRD notified the National Park Service and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism of potential exchange of land
January 2012 — Vireo completed its assessment of natural resources on the Stanley Nature Park and two other properties proposed for property exchange
February 2012 — School district members, the JCPRD Board, and community members met to discuss the possible exchange of land and development of the Stanley Nature Park.