NEWMAN - About two dozen people offered their thoughts on what amenities should be included in a planned nature park near Newman during a Zoom workshop last Wednesday evening.

The park is planned for part of a 78-acre, city-owned property east of Canal School Road and north of Brazo Road which will serve a variety of purposes.

Segments are set aside to serve as a natural filtration system for the city’s storm drain run-off, wetlands development and an area designated for a City of Newman/UC Merced partnership project to study the removal of nitrate and phosphorous.

But about 25 acres are set aside for an area deemed the Newman Nature Park, explained a consultant team from RRM Design Group, the firm brought in by the city to conduct public outreach on the proposed park.

That area was the focal point of the hour-long workshop.

April Miller, senior landscape architect for RRM Design, facilitated the meeting.

She explained that the city hopes to secure Prop. 68 grant funding for the nature park. Extensive public outreach is required as part of that grant application, Miller noted.

She emphasized that, while the city has heard extensive public sentiment in support of a swimming pool and splash pad, the nature park better meets the criteria for grant funding. While the city will continue to pursue other options for funding a pool, Miller explained, for the purposes of the Prop. 68 grant application the focus is on the nature park.

“The city careful considered (an application for a pool) but determined that it would not be as competitive as the Newman Nature Park,” Miller advised those attending the virtual workshop.

A nature park, she said, differs from the image of parks that may come to mind for many.

“Nature parks make use of native and climate-appropriate plantings, and are often habitat for wildlife or to treat storm water,” Miller explained.

The Newman Nature Park area, explained RRM team member Melanie Mills, principal landscape architect, includes six acres off Brazo Road designated for active park uses.

“All types of park activities can be considered there,” she explained. “The other area is a passive area. Because of the habitat that will be there, any activities that are identified need to be consistent with preserving habitat and wildlife.”

Through targeted surveys and comments, the consensus which eventually emerged was that trails and boardwalks were the most highly ranked features, with strong support also for picnic areas, a bike trail, educational exhibits and a play area.

Those expressing comments also suggested that the nature park should be distinctly different from other city parks.

“I think we have enough parks that have your basic, colorful playgrounds,” suggested Mia Ball. “The more natural-looking play areas with structures for climbing....I envision that more than your basic park.”

Mayor Casey Graham said that while he believes amenities such as picnic areas are important, “the education part is big. I think that would be really beneficial. You want some play area, but the more natural (the better).”

Miller said the RRM team will consolidate the guidance from the public to develop two conceptual park alternatives, which will be presented to the public at a second workshop planned for Thursday, Feb. 25.

From that point, Miller said, the preferred plan will be presented to the City Council for consideration at the March 9 council meeting.

The Feb. 25 workshop will begin at 6 p.m. and will also be virtual. The Zoom link is: http://bit.ly/36cQnab.

The meeting ID is 956 5425 9043; passcode 523560.

The meeting can also be joined by phone at 1-669-900-6833.