About a dozen citizens urged Natrona County’s leaders this week to hit the brakes on a potential project to increase parking at Rotary Park.
“Trails have a limited capacity that can be supported and maintain the user experience and the ecology and wildlife and the erosion concerns,” Douglas Irvine said at the Natrona County Commission’s Tuesday meeting. “… This is a complex topic that should not be lightly entered into and should have great study done before we even consider changing the landscape of the park.”
Rotary Park, which is nestled at the base of Casper Mountain’s snow-capped cliffs, is home to the Bridle Trail and Garden Creek Falls — two of the Casper area’s more popular outdoor attractions. The park currently has 28 parking spaces.
At the Commission’s work session, which was held prior to the meeting, representatives from the Rotary Club of Casper said the organization wanted to move forward with a project to add between 43 to 68 new spots near the park’s lower-level parking lot to increase the public’s access. When visitors can’t find a space, they just leave the park entirely, Rotarian Bill Schilling said.
Public comment isn’t taken during work sessions. But at the meeting later that night, residents shared a variety of concerns about how additional parking might affect the wildlife, watershed, roadways or private properties located near the park.
Mike Haigler, Natrona County’s road and bridge superintendent, said he didn’t think the parks’ roadways could safety accommodate additional traffic.
“I’ve got concerns if we got 96 cars coming out of there; our roads won’t handle it,” he said.
Toni Lussier, a member of the Rotary Club who also resides near the park, said she was dismayed by the “total disregard” for those living beside the potential new parking area. The club’s members need to consider how they would feel if the project was slated to be built near their homes, she said.
Another speaker said she didn’t believe there was a need for more parking in the lower area. Jonna Johnson explained that the lower lot is rarely full because most visitors prefer the upper lot, which is closer to the trails.
A few other residents noted that the Rotary Club appeared to be disinterested in receiving any community feedback.
“They don’t want to work with the neighbors,” Bob Ide said. “They pretty much want to tell us to sit down and be quiet. It almost looks like they just want to win here for whatever reason.”
Heather Irvine said she reached out to the Rotary Club for weeks to share her concerns. But no one called her back until she spoke to the media.
“That’s really disappointing to me — it’s a service club,” she said.
On Friday, Dick Jay, the president of the Rotary Club of Casper, and John Lawson, a club member who spoke at the work session, both declined to comment on the residents’ remarks.
Schilling could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon. But he previously stated that two recent reports advised adding more parking.
A master plan created in 2015 for all county parks recommended adding 68 new parking spaces to Rotary Park, he said. The Rotary Club then paid CEPI — a Casper-based engineering firm — to review the park’s parking situation last year. He said the report from CEPI advised adding 43 more spots.
According to Paul Bertoglio, the commission’s vice chairman, the Rotary Club has done a “phenomenal job” enhancing the park throughout the last few years. But Bertoglio said Friday that he also believed many of the residents who spoke had valid concerns.
Though the Rotary Club wants to work directly with the Commission, Bertoglio said the commissioners want the club to work alongside the Natrona County Parks Board, an advisory board that screens major changes within the county’s parks and lakes.
“I would love to see a couple of Rotary members, a couple of the residents and maybe a couple of the park advisers sit down together and actually look at the whole issue (before we move forward),” he said.
Natrona County Attorney Eric Nelson previously stated that Rotary Park was deeded to the county in 2013. But the county agreed to a memorandum of understanding at the time.
A copy of the memorandum states that the Rotary Club “desires to implement voluntary improvements at Rotary Park pursuant to the Rotary Park Master Plan. ... Rotary Club agrees that the design, engineering, materials and construction of all improvements to Rotary Park shall be approved by the county prior to beginning construction on said project. County agrees that approval of such projects shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
Editor’s note: Star-Tribune publisher Dale Bohren has a conflict of interest in this matter and did not participate in any way with this article.