Plans to renovate the North End Grand Canal Park in Ocean Shores are back in motion after over two years of pandemic-induced dormancy.
The city — along with representatives from The Watershed Company, an environmental consulting firm it hired to produce a master plan for the park — hosted a public-input workshop at the Ocean Shores Library on Friday, the first of its kind since the pandemic halted the project’s momentum in 2020.
Friday’s event was also the first of two public input workshops to take place this fall before Watershed will present a final plan to the City Council in December, according to Amber Mikluscak, a landscape architect at The Watershed Company.
“I think what we’ve found is that people are excited that this is going again,” Mikluscak said.
Mikluscak said much of the feedback she received on Friday was similar to what she heard in 2019, when the city released a master plan report for park improvements.
“That helps us to know there hasn’t been a tremendous pivot in attitudes and orientations toward recreation,” Mikluscak said.
The 2019 plan provides a “jumping off” point for planners to build on the work they already produced two years ago instead of starting from a blank slate, Mikluscak said.
Workshop attendees wrote their feedback — distinguished by color as positive or negative in nature — on sticky notes and pasted them to a poster containing a graphic of the park. People also participated in a mock delegation of funds, choosing which aspects of the project they would theoretically fund by placing fake money into an array of glass bowls.
City officials will eventually do something similar — with real dollars — once the plan is finalized. That’s assuming they can track down the $2.35 million in total estimated cost for the project, according to The Watershed Company’s 2019 plan.
City Administrator Scott Andersen said the city can’t work to secure funding until the final plan is approved in December, and that the company’s price tag is simply a preliminary assessment.
Mikluscak said the figure is likely to change because costs have changed since the 2019 plan was created.
Currently, the park includes about 1.6 acres of recreational space — wooden benches, a picnic area and a grass walking trail parallel to the canal.
And a point of interest for workshop-goers — especially for people with boats or kayaks, according to Amanda Fleischman, a landscape architect for The Watershed Company — was the proposed new dock that would provide access to the Grand Canal and the adjacent wetlands.
“That’s right up our alley, to integrate the human experience with a wetland or a canal,” Fleischman said.
The Grand Canal runs nearly the entire length of Ocean Shores and is the centerpiece of the park, sandwiched between two fairways of the Ocean Shores Golf Course at its northernmost tip. It’s also the main artery of the city’s canal system that was dredged in the 1960s and ’70s to increase waterfront property and provide recreation, according to Watershed’s 2019 plan.
But in the years since then, an influx of sediment has filled the Grand Canal, raising its bed, and along with overgrown vegetation, blocked navigation for larger vessels. Additionally, water quality issues were identified in the 1990s.
Mikluscak said environmental regulations for wetlands can create an added level of complexity to park designs like this one, especially since those rules change often — meaning park plans have to change with them.
“We have to be aware of the fact that there are rules in place for freshwater habitats, navigation, and buffer environments for wetlands,” Mikluscak said. “There is some element of all of those in this.”
Mikluscak said the city gave The Watershed Company a December deadline to produce a final plan. She recommended people fill out an online survey to provide input.
Before then, residents of Ocean Shores will have another chance to weigh in on the North End Grand Canal Park renovations at another workshop. Andersen said the date for the workshop is to be determined, but will be sometime this fall, and will be announced as it approaches.