Rexburg applies for $225,000 block grant for Nature Park

(Photo courtesy Rexburg City Hall)

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Rexburg’s Nature Park may receive an upgrade thanks to the city applying for a $225,000 Idaho Department of Commerce Idaho Community Block Grant.

The city council agreed to apply for the grant during a public hearing held Wednesday night. Should it receive the funds, the city council will hold a second public hearing to review where the money will be spent.

The Development Company’s Project Manager and Developer Rick Miller discussed plans for the park during the meeting.

“I started to work with the city staff on the park plan in 2018 to identify the highest priorities. (Nature Park) was identified,” he said.

Plans call to install two ADA unisex restrooms, create ADA parking and to upgrade the water fountain. A gazebo and three benches have also been budgeted for, Miller said.

It’s expected the total cost of the Nature Park project will be $322,000. Of that cost, $225,000 will come from the grant while the city will chip in another $27,000. City employees will cover additional costs via in-kind work like engineering work estimated at $67,000.

Miller said the city stands a good chance of qualifying for the grant funds because of the low to moderate income status in the community.

The city sent the grant application on Monday, and it should know by December whether it gets the funds.

If it receives the grant, the city will start the project’s environmental study estimated to take 90 days to complete. Construction is expected to begin next summer.

Nature Park has experienced a substantial increase in usage on its walking trails and its pickle ball court, said City Councilman Christopher Mann.

“Anything we can do to enhance our park experiences for our residents, I strongly support,” he said. “I look forward to continual use and growth of Nature Park.”

Rexburg’s Economic Developer Daniel Torres says the park’s pickle ball court has been used a lot more of late.

“Pretty much every morning and evening, there’s a large group using all the courts. There’s also a disc golf course there that’s quite popular. A lot of people are playing that on a regular basis,” he said.

Nature Park also features a skate park, trails, and soon-to-be completed dog park. The city tentatively plans to host a grand opening of the dog park Oct. 1, said Mayor Jerry Merrill.

“It’s just a big open grass area where people can let their dogs go off leash and run,” he said. “(We’re) going to be building some different features the dogs can jump over, run through and climb on.”

Merrill said that initially, the city received some concern about creating a dog park.

“In the past it seemed like we got a lot more push back for spending money on a dog park,” he said. “The dog park is not only for the dogs, but more for the people who own the dogs and who need a place to take their dogs. People socialize while they’re there.”

The park also has a pond that the city hopes to soon restock. Yet, before it’s filled with fish, Idaho Fish and Game requires the city build an ADA accessible bathroom near the pond. The previous bathroom there was vandalized and eventually removed.

“Installing an ADA bathroom will enable us to work with Idaho Fish and Game to, hopefully, start stocking it with fish,” Merrill said.

While parks usually don’t generate money for the city, they instead generate goodwill that in turn boosts the local economy, Merrill said.

“People, when they think of a town, think of parks and open spaces to go with their families and their dogs and whatever. As word gets around that ‘Rexburg has these great parks you can go to,’ that helps boost the economy,” Merrill said. “That helps with not only people who want to move here but helps with businesses that want to be here to provide services for those people. It’s a large ecosystem — it refers to economic development — it’s all kind of related to each other.”

Merrill said that residents want and need places to visit during their leisure time.

“One of the things mentioned most, when we do studies and surveys in what people like about a community, it’s having nice parks and nice places for people to go to with their families and kids. Parks are one of the things they value highest in a community,” he said.

Thanks to grants, the city can invest in its parks, Merrill said.

“We’re excited to apply for the grant. The more we can keep in our budget and use for maintaining our current parks and saving up to build some new parks, the better off we are. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the grant,” he said.