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Local Parks Master Planning FAQs

Common Questions about the Local 5-Year Parks and Recreation Master Planning Process

Please refer to the “IDNR Planning Guidelines for Five Year Parks and Recreation Master Plans” at dnr.IN.gov/outdoor/files/or-planningguidelines.pdf

General Park Plan Questions

Q:  Is my city/township/county required to submit my parks and recreation master plan to DNR for approval?

A:  Only if you want to be eligible to apply for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant program administered by the IDNR Division of Outdoor Recreation. If you do not wish to apply for this grant, then you are not required to submit a plan to us, even though we highly recommend it. The Recreational Trails Program does not require a master plan on file with DNR to be eligible.  Any local entities that would like to submit a parks and recreation master plan to IDNR simply for future LWCF grant potential, guidance or suggestions is welcome to do so; there is no requirement to apply for grants. A copy of all approved master plans will be retained by the DNR and will maintain grant eligibility for five years.

Q:  My city/township/county has never created a plan before. Where can I get help?

A:  We’re more than happy to see plans from consultants, in-house plans, or combinations of the two. We have received quality plans from local entities using both methods. We recommend consulting with local planners, regional planning agencies, other park and recreation agencies, colleges and universities that have created successful plans. On request, we can provide information and reference materials that may assist your planning process. Feel free to call, e-mail or mail us your questions.

Q: What are the Jan. 15 and April 15 deadlines about anyway?

A:  These deadlines are required to be eligible to apply for Land and Water Conservation Fund grant programs through our Division. If your plan is new, expired or expiring, you should turn in your preliminary draft by Jan. 15 and your final draft by April 15 of the year in which you want to apply for LWCF grants.   Your local park board also must be legally established under current Indiana Code to be eligible for LWCF.

Q: I’m almost ready to submit my plan; what exactly should I send you?

A: Send us an electronic copy of the entire plan plus appendices, or mail us an unbound black-and-white copy printed on both sides. Acceptable electronic plan versions include Word or PDF. With either method, when sending us your final version of the plan, please include copies of the ADA/ABA/Rehab. Act (504) Accessibility Compliance sign-off sheet, and the park board’s resolution adopting the plan, both with original signatures.

Q: I just sent in my master plan to DNR; how long does it take to get my review?

A: The turn-around time for reviews depends a lot on the time of year, but we strive to get submitted master plans and drafts turned around in less than two weeks from the date of arrival (or a one-month maximum immediately after the Jan./April 15 plan submission deadlines). The plans are reviewed in the order that they were received. Plans received at other times of year besides the Jan./April 15 submission deadlines will usually be reviewed within a few days.

Q: I just received final IDNR approval for my five-year parks and recreation master plan; what kinds of grants may I apply for?

A: Having an approved, current master plan and a park board created under Indiana Code 36-10-3 or 36-10-4 makes you eligible to apply for Land and Water Conservation Fund or Hometown Indiana grants. IDNR has a number of other grants agency-wide (not just in Outdoor Recreation) that you may apply for. For more information about the various grant programs available, see the “Grants and Financial Assistance” webpage at dnr.IN.gov/3190.htm or the “Outdoor Recreation Grants” webpage at dnr.IN.gov/outdoor/2602.htm. You may also contact Division of Outdoor Recreation grants section chief Bob Bronson at (317) 232-4075 or bbronson@dnr.IN.gov.

NOTE: Not all grants are funded in any given year, so please contact our grants staff for details of grant availability.

Planning Area

Q: May I consider a set distance outside my town/city/township’s boundaries as included in my planning area?

A: Yes. This is actually fairly common, as many rural entities have a number of rural users that come from the area outside the municipal boundaries. This section is asking you to consider what your “real-life” service area is, not just where you draw your tax base from, or what your community’s boundaries are.


DISCLAIMER: his document provides guidance to assist local park and recreation planners and interested individuals in understanding accessibility issues in park planning. The following information is provided as information and guidelines for IDNR planning standards only. This technical assistance does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice should be obtained from an attorney.

Q: What should we include in the Accessibility section of our plan?

A: In the IDNR Park Planning Guidelines document, there’s a good discussion of why we ask for accessibility information, as well as what is required. We are looking for specifics of the things mentioned in the guidelines:

  • EITHER: 1) Designated ADA coordinator for either the local government entity or for the park department in particular (required only if government entity has 50 or more employees); OR 2) Designated ADA information contact person (for any government entity that has less than 50 employees).
  • Self-evaluation or commentary on currently accessible programs, activities and services.
  • Self-evaluation or commentary on currently inaccessible programs, activities and services; with suggested timeline for improvements, estimated costs, person(s) responsible and potential funding sources.
  • Information about public notice of ADA requirements (short discussion of methods, formats, locations, etc.).
  • Information about ADA grievance procedures for the local government entity or park department.
  • ADA/ABA/Rehab. (504) Accessibility compliance sign-off sheet with original signatures (must be submitted as hard copy).

Write about facilities, programs, policies, etc. that your department uses to ensure access to all. It is very common for park departments to have some accessibility issues in facilities or programs. Acknowledge the potential for improvement and discuss when, what and where improvements might be made; include some ideas of where funding might come from and where outside expertise might be useful. Include and consult with persons with disabilities during the evaluation process; their input can be critical to identifying program, activity and/or service barriers that are unique to your park system.

Q: Do I have to provide the IDNR Division of Outdoor Recreation with an Accessibility Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan?

A: Not for the purposes of this plan. IDNR does not require it; this is a Federal requirement, and is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice. We recognize the difficulties in conducting this kind of evaluation in-house without specialized and possibly expensive outside experts. There is helpful guidance and information at www.adagreatlakes.org/ada. We will still accept the plan if the actual accessibility self-evaluation and transition plan is not included. IDNR does require a concise commentary or table illustrating some examples of currently accessible facilities, currently inaccessible facilities, and a suggested timeline for improvements, estimated costs, the person(s) responsible and potential funding sources.

NOTE: Title II of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act does require that state and local entities perform an accessibility self-evaluation and create a transition plan. Please see www.ada.gov for information.

Q: What is this ‘Universal Design’, and why is it mentioned in the guidelines?

A: Universal Design is not a requirement for our planning process. Universal Design (UD) is a design theory with seven principles (see  www.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud for details). ADA requires at least minimum accessibility, while Universal Design intends to make a facility appealing and usable to all people, to the greatest extent possible, regardless of ability or circumstances. Please refer to the 2006 to 2010 Indiana Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) for examples. The IDNR Division of Outdoor Recreation views Universal Design as a best management practice and recommends its use whenever possible.

Public Participation

Q: Why do you ask for more than one type of public input for my master plan?

A: In the Planning Guidelines document, the “minimum planning effort” asks for one method of random public input gathering (such as sending out a randomly sampled mail survey) and one method of non-random user group input (such as conducting public meetings or focus group interviews). Each type of public input method has its own drawbacks; using more than one method cancels out some of these drawbacks. Remember, a larger sample size (number of people surveyed/interviewed) typically is a better representation of the community.

NOTE: IDNR always asks for the number of members of the actual public (these do not include town/city council, park staff, consultants, city employees, or reporters), involved in each of the following:

  • Attending each public meeting.
  • Participating in a survey.
  • Being interviewed.
  • Participating in any other public input methods.

Q: No one has shown up at my public meetings; is trying this method enough to satisfy the public participation section of the plan?

A: Not if it’s the only method you’ve tried. This is one of the toughest parts of anyone’s planning process. We consider each and every plan on an individual community basis. We suggest that you fully document each type of public participation method, even if it wasn’t successful. We want to see a good faith effort with multiple methods tried. If one method fails, document it in the plan and then try something else.

Many departments see more success using “outreach” type methods such as focus group or user group interviews. This has the advantage of taking the interviewer to the users instead of vice versa. We would prefer to see one random form of public input gathering, such as a survey, and at least one method that tries to reach user/non-user groups. For example, it would be acceptable to have tried a survey (and received a small return), tried to hold public meetings (and had no one show up, so long as they were advertised), and then completed a series of interviews with stakeholders, users and non-users to fill in the gaps.

Q: What is the “ideal” or minimum number of people that we can receive public feedback from and still meet your requirements for public participation?

A: There are no stated figures in the Planning Guidelines document for the minimum number of citizens that should be heard from during the public participation process. For the consistency of plan reviews, we try to follow all previous standards set within the Planning Guidelines document. We look at each plan on a case-by-case basis, as the situation for each community is unique and requires unique examination.

Here’s an inside look at how we try to determine if a plan’s public participation section is thorough and complete enough:

Keep in mind the “Law of Large Numbers” — as the size of a population sample increases (the number of people heard from during all your public participation methods), so does the chance that it speaks for the entire community. In other words, if a park system from a community of 100,000 only gathers feedback from 50 people, how well does that 50 represent the other 99,950 people’s needs, opinions and ideas?  It’s always best to try to get the biggest sample that you can afford and accomplish practically.

How large is the community/township/county? We try to take into account the population size of the community; larger populations would generally require larger numbers of survey participants/interviewees for a representative sample.

The Planning Guidelines state, “You may consider using statistical equations to help you select the type and size of sample you use based on the total population of your planning area.” There are free sources of online information on this kind of statistic; two of them are www.surveysystem.com/sscalc.htm and www.greatbrook.com/survey-statistical-confidence-how-many-is-enough.

NOTE: IDNR does not make any judgment of, or support any product or service associated with or sold by these or any related websites.

The Planning Guidelines suggest that “Your goal should be 50 to 70% of the questionnaires returned in a usable form.” “If you get fewer than 35% of the surveys back, it will be risky to attempt to draw conclusions that apply to the entire population in the planning area. This does not, however, mean that the information is useless. Your survey can still give you insight into recreation issues.”

Was there a great deal of variance in the responses gathered? If the responses from several methods tended to agree or seem similar, then you may be more confident that you may not have to keep trying other methods. However, if you get totally different responses from each public participation method, and within each method (for example, all your survey respondents provide totally different answers on each question), then adding another participation method is probably a good idea. Wide variation in responses indicates a larger sample is needed.

How many methods must be tried? Since the Guidelines specify at least two methods, that’s our bare minimum. We prefer to see more methods being used if one or more of the first methods had very small response from the public (such as a public plan review meeting that was only attended by the park board and park staff), or had huge variations in the responses. Consider using an “outreach” method of gathering public feedback if your surveys or meetings had small responses (such as going out into your community and interviewing user groups, community organizations or stakeholders).

Have all the various methods used been documented in the plan? We take into account all methods that we see reported and documented in the plan, whether they were successful or not, so long as there was indication of good faith effort on the part of the planner. An example of a good faith effort would be to advertise a public meeting using several newspaper ads or articles, fliers posted at strategic locations in the city/county, and invitations to stakeholder groups; if no one showed up at that meeting, and the effort was documented in the plan, we give credit for a method tried in good faith. A “who, what, when, where, why, how many were there, and what did they say” approach is a good way to document your public participation/input.

Needs Analysis

Q: May I use the Level of Service (LOS) formula from the National Recreation and Parks Association to do my needs analysis?

A: Yes. There are many ways to do needs analysis for your planning area, and deciding which one works best for your area is up to you. See the Planning Guidelines document for a good explanation of the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS), LOS, and Issue Analysis methods of needs analysis. Using any of the above methods fulfills our needs analysis requirements. If you wish to use another method of needs analysis, contact us, and we will be happy to consider them on a case-by-case basis.

For more assistance with IDNR’s master planning process, please contact:

Greg Beilfuss
IDNR-Outdoor Recreation; State and Community Outdoor Rec. Planner
402 W. Washington St.  W271
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2782
Office Phone: (317) 232-4071
E-mail: gbeilfuss@dnr.IN.gov

Visit the parks planning web page for forms, information and downloadable documents.