Work on long-awaited playground equipment and other improvements for Trail Blazer Park will start this summer, as city officials try to get ahead of anticipated development in the Highway 84 corridor.

The Highway 84 West Neighborhood Association will host a public input meeting for the $455,000 project at 6 p.m. Thursday at Harris Creek Baptist Church, 401 Stageline Drive. Residents can weigh in on the design for the planned equipment and picnic pavilion.

Neighborhood Association President Nathan Embry, who lives near the park, moved to the area in 2010 and became president in 2015, after speaking to his neighbors and realizing he was not the only parent who wanted a playground.

The 18-acre park was developed in conjunction with the 2.5-mile Cotton Belt Trail, a paved and lighted path that parallels Highway 84 along the former Cotton Belt railroad line.

Embry said the park’s location at the west end of the trail makes it ideal for walking or jogging, but the park has no structures for kids.

“We reach about 3,000 people out here, so I think people will be interested (in Thursday’s meeting),” Embry said. “I typically have between 40 and 90 people who show up depending on the content. I expect this one to be not very different than that.”

He said subdivisions in the area, including the Trails of Oak Ridge, Stone Creek Ranch and Sunwest Village, are continuing to grow. The closest school, River Valley Intermediate School, does not have a playground.

“The park land is already there, there’s just nothing there but trees and a gazebo,” Embry said.

The city of Waco opened Trail Blazer Park in 2010 to serve as a trailhead for Cotton Belt Trail, which was completed in 2013 and runs east to another trailhead off Hannah Hill Road.

The Waco Parks and Recreation Department earmarked $455,000 for the project in its 2020 budget, $68,200 of which went to a design contract with BSP Engineers Inc. that Waco City Council approved Oct. 1.

The work is expected to last about six months, senior parks planner Tom Balk told the Parks and Recreation Commission during a meeting Friday.

Bare bones park

Because it was built as a trailhead, Trail Blazer is little more than a parking lot and some lighting, Balk said. It also has a walking loop and gazebo. The park lacks water fountains or restrooms and has seen no major improvements since it was built.

“This project is to come back in and add some of those true neighborhood park elements,” Balk said. “There’s a standing population, but I think it’s going to quadruple here in the next couple of years.”

Plans for the update include a playground to accommodate ages 2 to 12 and an adjacent picnic pavilion, he said. “Fitness equipment and of course a drinking fountain,” also are being discussed.

With those features in place, the park would still lack some key elements but would be better equipped to meet growing demand, he said.

“The development and construction are ongoing,” Balk said. “We’re trying to get in there before the demand is at peak.”

Development trend

Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Chris Evilia said residential development in the Highway 84 corridor hit its stride about 20 years ago, after Waco annexed the area and started offering city utilities. But development has leveled out over the past five years.

“It continued for a good decade or so,” Evilia said.

MPO estimates for the area show the population increased from 4,216 in 2010 to 5,212 in 2015, a 23.6% increase. McLennan County’s overall estimated population growth for the same period was 4.5%.

However, Evilia said he expects development in the area to pick up again when the Highway 84 overpass at Speegleville Road is complete. The $20.5 million project started in late spring 2018 and is expected to wrap up this summer.

City Councilman Jim Holmes, whose district includes the park, said he is anticipating that development as well.

“When that thing gets done, it’ll encourage more residential development, but more importantly it will encourage more commercial growth at the intersection,” Holmes said. “It’s going to be a pretty cool commercial area.”

Holmes said the area’s roads have fared better than other parts of the Greater Waco area, including China Spring, where rapid development led to congestion and frustration among residents. The Highway 84 corridor received new water and wastewater lines in 2017, and the area’s infrastructure will require upkeep as development continues.

“There’s definitely a city council focus on doing what we need to do to support the growth out there,” Holmes said.

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