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Foster Park Trail impact forces hold on golf course revamp

Tony Sandeleben
Potential changes to the Foster Park Golf Course are on hold after complaints about their impact to the well-loved trail around the park.

Foster Park in Fort Wayne is now five years away from its 100th birthday. To celebrate, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve McDaniel wants to reinvigorate the Foster Park Golf Course.

According to the Parks and Recreation Department, golfers played 20,000 rounds of golf at Foster Park in the 2022 playing season. McDaniel said he hopes improving the course can retain those golfers and attract more.

“We wanted to celebrate the first hundred years but also set the golf for the next hundred years,” McDaniel said. “Maybe this would be a good opportunity to revamp golf at Foster Park.”

To make that happen, McDaniel and the Parks and Recreation Department hired Hills Forrest Smith Golf Course Architects to help design the plans, held public hearings and created an online survey to get public input on the plan.

McDaniel said the plan released was based on that public input.

“That includes practice facilities, driving range, putting green, things like that,” McDaniel said.

In addition to those, the new plan calls for a way of getting stormwater away from the greens, the tees and the fairways and into the rough and somewhere that can hold that water faster.

To do that, McDaniel said he new plan calls for a new water hazard. In order to attract a wide-variety of golfers, the plan calls for adding tees closer and further from the holes throughout the course.

Jared Shimel, a veteran golfer who began his golfing career at Foster Park, said the new improvements could help inspire a new generation of golfers.

“I think with the growth in the game, and we’ve seen so many new players and players returning to the game in the last three years that having a course that is in better condition and seeing changes to the layout I think would be beneficial to attract newer players to continue to play there,” Shimel said.

Golfers are not the only ones using Foster Park. The trail around the park also attracts visitors.

Tony Sandleben
Foster Park Pavilion 1

According to the Parks and Recreation Department, 50,000 to 60,000 people used the trail around the golf course in 2022. That number includes repeat users.

One of those trail-users is Lisa Starks, who lives in the Foster Park Neighborhood. The new plan calls for moving part of the trail which took her by surprise.

“When I saw it, I didn’t realize initially that it was going to be anything more than the golf course,” Starks said.

She said that’s because at the public hearings, there was not a single question about the trail. Same goes for the online survey. Starks said that makes the data the Parks and Recreation Department collected incomplete.

“So, if you ask somebody ‘What do you want to do to improve the golf course?’ and you’re not a golfer. You don’t utilize the golf course,” Starks said. “Then, you’re not necessarily going to participate in feedback on that.”

Starks said she moved to her house in the Foster Park Neighborhood to be closer to Foster Park. She’s used the trail for years.

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood since 2007. So, my biggest use of the park is the trail. I mean, it’s just a great space to be in, and I love being able to walk over there with my children now and my husband. It’s just a space that I have utilized so much, and I hate to see it negatively impacted.”

Foster Park also hosts a wedding venue at Bridal Glenn that is routinely booked out for a year, slows traffic when the gardens are in bloom and attracts a crowd to its historic pavilions that either are or are in the process of being restored. Kids often play in the soccer fields and tennis courts as well.

FILE PHOTO: Rebecca Green
The Foster Park tulips and other flowers draw thousands to it during the spring.

Starks now administers a social media group called Friends of Foster Park that includes people who feel as she does about the trail. She’s coordinating with her group members to let the Parks and Recreation Department know about their concerns.

Starks The plan pushes more of the trail into a wooded area, and she feels that is dangerous for her and her children.

Shimel, the golfer, said the improvements to the Foster Park Golf Course would be nice, but not essential for the course to continue.

“In its current state, absolutely, it’s a very budget-friendly course,” Shimel said. “You can go out and play. It’s typically fairly open. This is also a course that’s hosted city championships in the past, and it has held up and can be a very demanding course. So, there’s still something there for golfers of all skill levels, for sure.”

Amid criticism of the new plan, McDaniel said at the December Board of Park Commissioners meeting that he and his department are taking the plan back to the drawing board.

“We’re formulating a plan or an action to go back to the community to get more public input,” McDaniel said.

Starks said she is fine with improvements to the golf course, but said the Parks and Recreation department needs to find a “middle ground” with trail users. She said in a perfect world, the golf course would be improved without affecting the trail at all.

McDaniel said that is possible.

“I think so,” McDaniel said. “Yeah, and I think it might mean either rearranging some of the holes or shortening something up. I think there definitely is a solution we can come to.”

The Parks and Recreation Department said it will be adjusting the online survey to include questions about the trail in the near future.

Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.