Franklin E. Miles Park can claim more than some other Santa Fe city parks.

Ample shade pavilions and grills make a haven for picnickers. The playground equipment is clean, functional and spacious.

Some of the water fountains work.

Then there’s the litter gnarled in the grass fields pockmarked by former prairie dog habitats, blown in heaping piles against the chain-link backstops, fluttering in the wind across the weedy volleyball court.

Some trash cans overflow. The bathrooms are locked most of the time; the port-a-potties are … port-a-potties. The murals in the middle of the baseball fields are decrepit, crumbling in pieces off the walls.

With a new mayor who wants the City Different to be the most “family-friendly” city in America, a 30-acre neighborhood park in the center of Santa Fe probably ought to be better than — at best — not bad.

And Franklin E. Miles Park is not alone.

A year ago, The New Mexican evaluated the city’s parks, finding the more than two dozen municipal green spaces were worthy of only a middle-of-the-road report card.

There were verdant green and shady sanctuaries. There were also weed-infested pits strewn with litter and graffiti.

This month, the newspaper revisited the five worst-rated municipal parks from that report card series, four of which sit in the working-class south-side neighborhoods where Santa Fe families with children are most concentrated.

The verdict: The bad parks are still pretty rough.

The entries in this bottom-of-the-barrel category — four D’s and one F, as graded in 2017 — showed improvement upon re-evaluation, including Franklin E. Miles Park, where the baseball fields are in much better shape than they were a year ago.

In general, the city’s weed infestation is more under control this year than last.

One far southwest-side park even went from gross to pretty good.

But, in spite of the marginal upticks, the worst of the worst city parks remain unattractive and show signs of slipshod maintenance.

One abandoned park, in particular, stands utterly neglected, a grim testament to the indolence of a failed developer and the diverted attention of city leadership in a transition year.

The quality of city parks as recreational refuge takes on greater importance in a summer that has seen most of New Mexico’s great outdoors at least partially closed off for fire danger.

Mayor Alan Webber has made family-friendliness one of the three themes of his agenda — an “eco-friendly” and “user-friendly” City Hall are the others. Webber, who took office in March, said he wanted to reframe the overall conversation about delivering quality in city green spaces.

“I understand it’s important to look at the physical condition and the appearances and ask the question, ‘Are they well-maintained and well-kept?’ ” Webber said. “It’s also important to ask, ‘How are we programming the parks? Are we thinking creatively about what parks mean to families? Are we making them easy to use?’ ”

That could mean more ideas like the Southside Summer, a series of neighborhood events organized by the city, he said.

The Webber administration recently jettisoned the parks and recreation department director, Rob Carter, making him one of only a couple of senior staff members to not be retained in the mayoral transition.

The search for a new director should produce someone with a strong managerial record who can bring a new “service-oriented” energy to the parks department, Webber said.

Overall, parks and recreation should be treated as part of the city’s “social services program,” he added.

“Your question is largely about the thing called a park and is the city doing its job maintaining the thing called a park,” he said. “My perception is the city needs to pivot and think about more being in the people business than just the thing business. So we’re thinking about the uses of the parks and the recreation facilities in the way in which people can access them, use them. … Can we make parks and rec something that engages with well-being?”

The next director will inherit a department with less wiggle room than last year.

The parks and recreation budget saw a 4 percent decrease this year. City finance staff said that was attributable to a “zero-based budgeting” approach, in which each department built their budgets from scratch, but pointed to a cumulative increase over recent years despite this year’s decrease.

Parks Division Director Richard Thompson said the budget left his 47-person crew of maintenance workers, plus 11 supervisors, “roughly” the same. They will keep up the fight, he said, but less money for the department will have an impact.

“Well, the budget cuts are concerning — not troubling nor alarming but concerning,” Thompson said. “We’ll get through it. But it will affect the level and standard of care. That’s inescapable.”

As the entire city prepares to change to new modernized management software, the parks department has gotten the jump, Thompson said, with an internal app that helps track workers’ productivity and create a more regular maintenance program.

“When I speak to the troops, I ask them to look at it as though it’s their grandmother’s front yard,” he said. “Put some personal or family pride into it. Look at it through that lens.”

The overall mission remains the same.

“We feel we can get better at what we do,” Thompson said. “We always feel that. And this city deserves it. We’re making small strides to get better at it.”

The park with no name

City Council District 4

2017 grade: F

2018 grade: D-

A park so decrepit it evokes a David Lynch-ian dread, the park with no name is an abysmal lot caught in the no man’s land between city bureaucracy and a bankrupt subdivision developer.

The small park on Calle Nueva Vista, on the far south side, is in limbo. It has never been named because it’s never been developed, and it’s unclear who’s responsible for it.

The city generally will take maintenance responsibility for parks created by developers that meet certain city standards. But the developers of the Vistas Bonitas subdivision went into foreclosure in 2014, and the unfinished park has languished since then.

It technically appears to be the property of the city as it is within city limits and has no other owner, Thompson said, but city engineers have differed on whether to accept the park.

“There was a general lack of attention to detail when it was installed,” Thompson said, referring to an inaccessible walkway and the absence of surfacing or mulch. “But that’s never stopped us before. We’ve turned some parks around.”

The Rev. Karen Thompson, no relation, a retired pastor who moved to the neighborhood in 2014, has sought to raise awareness of the park situation with city leaders to little avail, her persistent emails gaining little traction beyond the occasional cleanup of weeds.

“I just have the feeling I’m getting some BS here, or like I’m in a Kafka novel,” she said. “I suspect they’ve got a long list of things they need to deal with when they have a new [parks and recreation department] director, and this little 0.83 of an acre could be number 198 on a list of 200. It’s just very frustrating.”

An abandoned lot, one that is simply empty, has a sort of logic to it: Something will come of this space.

The park with no name, on the other hand, has enough of the hint of a park to remind a visitor what it lacks.

And the hint is grim: A dusty and partially busted playground set occupies the center of a dirty field speckled with discarded miniature liquor bottles, dilapidated cardboard boxes and rotting wild gourds. The trees planted in two single-file rows are dead. A broken chain net dangles off a basketball hoop installed on a cement slab with no court markings. A lone picnic table, exposed to the sun, offers a visitor the chance to sit and stay a while — or to laugh at the idea.

The weeds here, as in all city parks, are less rambunctious than last year. City crews got out to an early start, Richard Thompson said, months earlier than last summer, when torrential monsoon rains accelerated rapid weed overgrowth.

But the weed trimming done at the park with no name was more a courtesy than part of the city parks program. “We mow it once a year; we pick up trash a couple times a year,” Thompson said. “That’s all.”

“But we could take this under our belt easily and just put it on our route,” he added.

What has to happen for that to take place?

“Somebody has to call me, either Renée [Martínez, the deputy city manager] or City Manager [Erik] Litzenberg,” Thompson said. “If they say, ‘Go make it your own,’ we would. We have had this discussion round and round over the last two years. It’s just a real vague issue.”

The discussion frustrates Karen Thompson and a few other neighbors. And it’s not simply a matter of city crews coming around to keep it clean. Thompson wants a park for the families in the area.

“It’s so fixable,” she said. “A couple of irrigation lines and a half a dozen new trees, some mulch around the playground. They really wouldn’t have to do much more. If I had the money, I’d just do it myself.”

“This is very important to the neighborhood,” Richard Thompson said. “We would love to resolve it. We have made friends with a lot of people out there during this process. I’d love to see their dreams come true.”

Frank S. Ortiz Park

City Council District 1

2017 grade: D

2018 grade: D+

Most Santa Feans know the Frank S. Ortiz Park for its vast off-leash dog run, a former landfill site that provides a view of the cityscape. That space is what draws most people and their pups.

The adjoining city park is a cramped and messy accessory to the untamed arroyos next door.

A number of spent charcoal bricks were splayed across the sidewalk at the park’s entrance when The New Mexican visited last week. Other remnants of an old barbecue suggest this dismal park has been visited at least once this year: Chewed-up corncobs have been thrown about, mixed alongside plastic bottles, wrappers, Ziploc bags and cigarette butts.

Some of the sparse playground equipment is broken, as it was a year ago when the newspaper paid a visit.

Two metal supports rise pointlessly from the weedy ground: The bench seat that once laid across the supports is simply gone. That was the case last year, too.

The hard-packed dirt of the park is riven with gaping holes, dug out by a dog or some other critter or simply carved up by the elements. The result is an uneven surface that would make it off-limits to even the most adventurous child, who would invite a broken ankle in scampering through.

A lone picnic table sits under a roof. The rest is exposed to the sun. There are no drinking fountains.

The parks director said the adjacent parking lot is where most people enter the dog park, so it is at least in the peripheral view of many visitors.

City Councilor Renee Villarreal, whose district encompasses the north-side park, said she believes people use it often and she hadn’t heard complaints.

Even if it is not as high-profile or high-traffic as other parks in the city, Thompson said maintenance crews treat all parks the same. There are two visits for litter cleanup a week: Once on Monday to clean up after the weekend, once on Friday to prepare for the weekend.

“But it’s one of the strange phenomenons we experience,” he said. “We can’t be in two places at a time. If we start picking up trash at 7 a.m., we’ll get to the last park by 3 p.m. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Franklin E. Miles Park

City Council District 4

2017 grade: D+

2018 grade: B-

The park’s improved score is attributable to the ample shade, quality playground space and available sitting areas. But there is still much to be desired for such a large park in such a family-heavy area.

The litter buildup looks to be weeks old, or older, despite the fact city cleanup crews come to this park, like all city parks, twice a week.

The cleanest part of the park is the graffiti-covered skate park in the northwest corner.

The bathrooms are “always locked up,” one regular squatter said from his nearby sleeping bag last week. Indeed, a heavy lock and chain keep the restrooms off-limits except for when Little League games take place. Then, Thompson said, the bathrooms are opened, and the concession area is the Little League’s responsibility.

Four port-a-potties are spread through the park. Two were a mess when The New Mexican visited. Thompson said they are cleaned at least twice each week. That work is contracted out, he added.

The baseball fields are in better shape than when The New Mexican came around in 2017. The infield of the primary baseball diamond, in fact, looks better-maintained than the Fort Marcy Ballpark, where a professional independent league team, the Fuego, makes its home.

The open grass fields, however, are clumped with the mounds of former prairie dog tunnel entrances, making each step treacherous. One would toss a frisbee around here at his own risk. And one would be hard-pressed to enjoy any volleyball on the weed-covered sand courts.

“We’ve got more real estate and less employees,” Thompson said, referring to changes in maintenance approach over the past three years. “We’ve kind of moved away from the caretaker aspect and more to the crew approach, lighter and more agile crews you can move around a bit more.”

Rancho del Sol Park

City Council District 3

2017 grade: D

2018 grade: B

Rancho del Sol Park saw a marked improvement over its 2017 evaluation.

The small park, which sits near César Chávez Elementary School, was overrun with weeds when The New Mexican visited in 2017. Weeds had grown over a handicap-accessible ramp and the paths that lead into the park, spilling over onto the nearby sidewalks.

Those are no more. And the small grassy area is completely clear of litter and well maintained. Both water fountains work. Some of the young trees look to be in need of water, but more are blossoming and healthy. The rubber mat on which the playground area sits is worn and torn-up in a few places but functional.

Thompson said parks crews have been using an in-house app this summer — an “asset-management mobile solution,” in technical parlance — to try to acclimate themselves to the city’s new enterprise and resource planning system, much of which is expected to go live in January. The results should make it easier for parks supervisors to track work time and labor and generate thorough work reports, he said.

“We’re starting this year because we want to be really good at it when the city rolls out the enterprisewide system,” he said.

Rancho Siringo Park

City Council District 4

2017 grade: D+

2018 grade: C

There is the potential for Rancho Siringo Park to anchor its midtown neighborhood.

On a tiny parcel nestled at the triangular intersection of two angled streets, three tall trees loom over a small, manicured carpet of soft green grass. The luxurious patches of shade there practically call out a siren song to the summertime passer-by.

But that’s about all the park has in its favor.

Massive weeds have become de facto receptacles for windswept plastic waste. The playground is completely exposed to the sun, making it all but untouchable in the summer months. Worse, two “shade structures” sit nearby — shading little of the equipment or seating areas children or parents might use at the playground.

There are more than 90 of these tent-like tarps mounted on metal poles in the city. They were purchased using $320,000 in state funds.

“I don’t think the city got its money worth,” state House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told The New Mexican last year.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who previously chaired a city parks advisory committee, said the structures were attractive and “do provide at least some shade.”

Last year, The New Mexican observed an exposed metal stump in the playground area, a jagged and potentially hazardous protrusion. It once had held a spin structure.

The metal object remains firmly planted in the wood chips — with a crude wood-and-wire fence installed around it.


Tripp Stelnicki covers City Hall and Santa Fe County for The New Mexican.

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