With the end of 2018 quickly approaching, it’s a good time to look back at some of the stories that shaped the City of Ottawa over the past 12 months.

2018 was another year of progress for the city as new businesses opened, city events saw big turnouts, city projects helped improve the infrastructure and the city was recognized as one of the top stops on the Flint Hills Trails system.

Recreation stories such as the Flint Hills Trail, Downtown River Plaza and Ottawa Parks were prominent in the news this year.

In June, the Flint Hills Nature Trail officially became part of the state’s park system when Gov. Jeff Colyer signed Senate Bill 321, which designated the trail as a state park. Colyer along with Robin Jennisen, former secretary of Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, were on hand for the signing ceremony held in conjunction with Onward Ottawa’s celebration of the new Downtown River Plaza. The new state park intersects the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail and the River Plaza at First and Walnut streets.

At the event, Colyer said the trail is something that all of Kansas can be proud of.

“It is designating something that is special to us,” Colyer said prior to signing the bill. “I had three cyclists come up to us that had just ridden up from Iola today to be here for this event. Isn’t that pretty cool. I am so honored to be here right at the square of those two trails. Right here at Legacy Square.”

Jennisen said Kansas was bucking the trend by adding state parks, while other states are closing parks.

“Kansas created two new ones last year,” Jennisen said. “That is very significant. It is almost impossible to make money off a linear trail. What that linear trail will do for Kansas is immense. With the popularity of biking and hiking and the location of the Flint Hills Trail, it goes through a unique area of Kansas. It used to be a unique area in the whole continental United States. We have something very unique in Kansas and people want to see it. That is the significance of the Flint Hills Trail.”

In 2017, the City of Osawatomie approved the Downtown River Plaza project that will turn the space at Walnut Street between First and Second streets into an area where people can gather for events, entertainment and possibly a farmer’s market.

“In terms of economic development we think this project is spot-on for the community,” Ottawa Chamber of Commerce Director John Cohen said. “Having amenities in your community that will attract people to come and live here or be employed here is important. It is also very helpful to spurring housing development. The more amenities you have, the more people are likely to make that community a part of their life.

Doug Kinsigner, campaign director for Onward Ottawa, said space like this is essential for communities to attract the younger generation.

“The towns that are really progressing are the ones that focus both on business climate and quality of life” Kinsigner said. “If you can’t make your community appealing, people aren’t going to want to come and live there nor are companies going to want to come even if you have the best business park or places for them to operate, Nowadays they are competing for work force. That is the name of the game. We’ve been out talking to some of the major employers and they understand with Kansas’ low unemployment rate and this area is equally low, for them to think about long-term growth they have to think about how they can attract workers. And our community is competing with others.”

Phase 1 of the project has begun which comes with an estimated price tag of $1.9 million with the largest item being as estimated $537,500 for new site utility work. Phase 2 will cost an estimated $1.5 million with the new center pavilion structure costing $1.3 million. The phase three addition to the pavilion will cost an estimated $787,500.

The importance of Ottawa’s trail involvement was solidified in November when A freshly-formed council hosted its first ever meeting in Ottawa. Members of the Flint Hills Trail Advisory Council, formed by the state via Senate Bill No. 331, met in the Franklin County Commission Chambers at the Franklin County Office Annex and will be charged with helping to promote and maintain the trail’s viability.

City Parks

Ottawa’s parks underwent some changes both in equipment and policy. In April, the commission voted to approve a resolution encouraging residents to voluntarily recognize tobacco-free zones in Ottawa’s park areas.

“It’s a voluntary statement. That’s how it was drafted to give credence to the concern about the use of tobacco but also to recognize whenever you’re going to prohibit ... you are going to have to talk about enforcement. There are a lot of nuances to enforcement,” Richard U. Nienstedt, Ottawa’s city manager, said.

The commission had been discussing an option to ban smoking in the parks which brought out supporters on both sides of the issue.

Commissioner Blake Jorgensen said he thought the ordinance was a compromise.

“... We have listened to both sides of the issue and have come up with what we think is a solution to keep smokers away from children ... but then allow it to be in areas of the park that are away from that area, to provide a separation between where children play and where smokers can smoke,” he said.

There were additions to the parks as well. A new 18-hole disc golf course opened this summer in Forest Park and drew great reviews from area players.

Just this month it was announced that the third phase of the Goppert Teen Park will be completed after the City of Ottawa received a $15,000 grant. Phases one and two were completed in 2017 and included basketball courts and a skate park.

Keurig Dr. Pepper (KDP) and the national non-profit KaBOOM! awarded the City of Ottawa a Let’s Play Community Construction Grant which will be used to complete the final phase of the Goppert Teen Park project on West 15th Street in Ottawa.

The playground build is made possible by Let’s Play, an initiative by KDP to provide the funding, equipment and play spaces to help kids and families make active play a daily priority. Through Let’s Play, KDP and its partners are committed to helping create safe and inspiring PLAYces for Ottawa and Franklin County kids to learn, explore, grow and just be kids.

“I cannot tell you how excited I am about this announcement,” Fonda Rose, Ottawa Play Taskforce Chairperson, said. “We needed this funding to get the third phase complete and this announcement will help us ensure that we are building in the spring of 2019. Plus, I love community building projects.”

The third phase includes an agility course and landscaping. The basketball courts and skate park were the cornerstones of the first two phases, which were built in 2017. Phase three will see the construction of a new playground.

The Goppert Teen Park is the most ambitious project undertaken to improve the city’s parks since the Forest Park Pool renovations in 2006, city officials said. The goal of the teen project is to decrease alcohol and drug use by teens by providing alternative options for activity with challenging features in a safe location along with increasing their physical activity and development.

The playground build is made possible by Let’s Play, an initiative by KDP to provide the funding, equipment and play spaces to help kids and families make active play a daily priority. Through Let’s Play, KDP and its partners are committed to helping create safe and inspiring PLAYces for Ottawa and Franklin County kids to learn, explore, grow and just be kids. It will be constructed with volunteers in late spring of 2019 through the KaBOOM! community build model.

Construction

One of the biggest city projects of the year was the replacement of the city’s Main Street waterline. The commission approved the nearly $1.3 million project in June and construction began soon after. The commissioners’ approval marked the culmination of a process that began 1 1/2 years ago, and was prompted by the existing waterline’s repeated breaches.

“Water lines typically last longer than they have downtown,” Dennis Tharp, Ottawa’s utilities director, said at the meeting. “[The current waterline was] done about 30 years ago.

“What we’ve found over the past 30 years, is that pipe just has not held up well,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of breaks downtown, we’ve had people out of service. In order to be reliable, as we expect to be reliable, it’s time for us to go in and replace those lines and get back up to the standard that our customers expect.”

With the project came the headache of closed streets, intersections and working around city festivities like the car show. Much of the work was completed in the fall and it is expected to be completed early in 2019.

Other news

The City of Ottawa dedicated a new Fire Truck this year. The commission voted to approve the purchase of the new truck at its May 5 meeting. The city last purchased a pumper truck 17 years ago, according to Fire Chief Tim Mathias. The new truck was purchased for $633,650 and was delivered in October.

Finally, one of the popular projects this year was a new butterfly mural on a downtown building. The mural, which was started in February and dedicated in August, showcased the exceptional work of artist William H. Howe who was famous for paintings of nature including the migration of the Monarch butterflies.

Local muralist Dave Loewenstein first met Howe while he was working on a book about Kansas murals. He came to Ottawa to see the large mural he had painted at the former Ottawa Middle School. That meeting sparked a friendship and the two would meet frequently in Ottawa to discus art and Howe’s legacy.

“We talked about recreating one of his murals on a downtown building,” Loewentstein said. “Bill knew that he wasn’t physically able to do the work himself but he dreamed of having it done.”

Lowentstein spent the summer working on the mural on the side of a building on Fourth and Main streets.

— In our Dec. 27 publication, we will take a look at some of the business highs and