This article originally ran in the June 3 issue of the Progress Times.
Mission’s parks and recreation department surveyed the community to help build their five-year improvement plan for all 24 parks and roughly 240 acres. After receiving 585 surveys, the city came up with a list of top 10 priorities for parks and recreation improvements based on community feedback.
The top 10 list of priorities for the master plan is as follows:
- amenities at parks
- playground equipment
- splash parks
- picnic areas
- nature parks
- new parks
- indoor recreation center
- dog parks
The Director of Parks and Recreation Brad Bentsen said his department reached out to community members involved in different local activities and had them email people in their circles to inform them of the survey. Mission’s website also had a bulletin for the questionnaire, the city posted reminders on social media and placed listings in the Progress Times newspaper. The parks department held a public forum for in-person feedback.
Although Bentsen said he is thankful for the 585 returned surveys, he hoped to receive 1,000 to 1,500 surveys to more accurately reflect Mission’s population of about 86,000 people.
The parks department’s five-year plan is part of a larger 10-year plan the city created for the state in 2016. And although the state does not require an update, the five-year plan helps increase Mission’s chances of earning grants through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
This year, the parks budget is $3.9 million, which does not include the budget for aquatic and recreation. Last year, it was $3.3 million. According to Bentsen, in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, about 30 percent of the budget came from grant money. In 2016-2017, grants made up about 40 percent of the budget.
Even though construction in the last two years has been minimal because of the pandemic, the city has provided funding to update some aspects of Mission’s parks since Bentsen became the director seven years ago. Bentsen said they have added a 16-court tennis center, two dog parks, 12 picnic structures and new parking spaces, among other improvements. They also have sandblasted, primed and painted picnic shelters and pavilions. Additionally, they have been working to repair and replace park signs and add butterfly gardens. The parks department is also working with the public works department to eradicate weeds, but Bentsen still wants to be able to do more.
“A lot of our playground equipment is outdated and obsolete. So if something breaks on some of our playground equipment, we can’t order replacement parts,” the parks and rec director said. “The average age of our park equipment is probably about  years old. And it hurts. Of course, we like to improve the maintenance on our parks, but it takes funding for fertilization and chemicals to keep the weeds down, but new playground equipment is really important.”
During the recent May 7 election, mayoral and city council candidates Victor Anzalduas and Noel Salinas said constituents expressed that they would like to see park upgrades in Mission. While Anzaldua was campaigning, he said people sounded off about cracked slides and broken swings. Salinas himself said he noticed the parks were a problem, which is one reason why he ran for city council.
“My family, I have young kids. We travel; I love to go traveling. Everywhere we go, we tend to look for parks; we’re people that like to be outside,” Salinas said in an April interview. “So everywhere we travel, we try to find a nice park to go to and spend some time. And, unfortunately, here in Mission, our parks are really nasty. I still take my kids, but they’re nasty. They don’t keep up with them.”
Bentsen said his department does what it can to maintain and meet the community’s needs, but they can only do so much considering the amount of funding and staff.
“It takes money, and I guess…an increased budget would help. We need additional employees, and we do need a bigger budget,” he said.
With the five-year improvement plan, the parks department would like to add lights to picnic pavilions and provide more trail lights. The department is also looking at trail interconnectivity within the city and the cities east and west of Mission.
Parks and Rec submitted the five-year plan to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department this week, and they can submit grant applications as early as August.
“We know what sort of grants we want to apply for, so it gives us time now until August to do our paperwork and start working on grant applications to get them submitted by August,” Bentsen said. “And now that we’ve got our master plan and our five-year review, that will help us.”