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Upgrading Crescent Park’s serpentine would cost over $500K, report says

Crescent Park’s serpentine must be dredged and returned to its original depth to ensure weeds no longer grow, but that would cost over $500,000 and take nearly two months to complete.
crescent park arch spring 2019 a
Crescent Park (Photo by Larissa Kurz)

Crescent Park’s serpentine must be dredged and returned to its original depth to ensure weeds no longer grow, but that would cost over $500,000 and take nearly two months to complete.

That’s one main takeaway in a report about maintenance issues in the downtown park that city administration produced for the Sept. 11 regular council meeting. 

The report was in response to a concern Coun. Dawn Luhning raised during the Aug. 14 meeting about complaints she had received about the challenges in the area.

Derek Blais, director of parks and recreation, submitted the report for the September meeting.

Complaints and service requests

Parks and rec has received 84 documented complaints or service requests about Crescent Park since 2019, the report said. 

The top issues have been snow removal on pathways (15 calls; 18 per cent of all cases), the condition of the serpentine (nine; 11 per cent), burned-out lights (seven; eight per cent), graffiti and vandalism (six; seven per cent) and weeds in the flower beds (six; seven per cent).

Serpentine and water quality

The department’s biggest concern is the serpentine’s water quality and the emergence of duckweed and waterweed, likely due to low water flows and the creek’s current depth, Blais said.

The Spring Creek diversion berm and city’s stormwater system provide much of the serpentine’s water supply, while once the serpentine reaches a certain depth, water flows back into the stormwater network on the park’s south side near the pool, the report continued.

A pump that feeds the park’s north-side waterfall recirculates the remaining water, while two fountains circulate the water in the middle of the creek. However, dry conditions produce very little fresh water, which leads to stagnant liquid and allows for duckweed and waterweed to grow and plug the pumps’ intakes. 

Moreover, the Spring Creek system that passes through Crescent Park is decades old and could have issues with its culverts and stormwater sewer pipes.

The engineering department is completing a hydraulic evaluation and condition assessment of the system, which will provide important data on the drainage infrastructure connected to the serpentine, said the report.

Sediment has also built up because of the numerous drainage outlets feeding into the Spring Creek diversion system. For the past five years, parks and rec has dredged the waterfall near the amphitheatre every spring and fall to increase its depth and reduce the smell of stagnant water. 

“In 2023, an island of sediment has already started to form at the base of the waterfall, only two months after the dredging occurred … ,” Blais wrote.

Digging up the creek

Dredging the serpentine would address its depth issues but poses a challenge due to its design and the inability of large hydro excavation trucks and other equipment to move close enough without damaging the pathways and landscape, he continued. 

To excavate the serpentine to its original depth — including mobilization, site preparation, dredging, excavation, sludge disposal and landscape/pathway repairs — would cost $500,000 to $600,000, the report stated. It would also take four to six weeks to complete, followed by pathway repairs. 

A full dredge means the city must develop a regular maintenance program to ensure the serpentine is cleaned consistently. This might require landscape design changes to ensure large equipment can safely access the necessary areas. 

Blais recommended that the city not begin dredging until the Spring Creek assessment is finished, even if weeds and water quality remain issues. 

Park staff have used various methods to remove the floating duckweed, he said. They have skimmed the top using nets, pool noodles and landscape rakes and run fresh water through the serpentine via an adjacent fire hydrant — all have been effective only in the short term.

Safety and security

Safety issues continue to be a concern in Crescent Park, although there has been a slight improvement this year compared to 2022 because the city has worked closely with police, Blais said.

Homelessness and overnight sleeping/congregating are ongoing issues, while park staff must check problem areas every morning and clean up broken glass, drug paraphernalia, clothing, blankets, food, and human feces, among other items, he continued. 

People are also starting fires overnight near the library, museum and art gallery, and amphitheatre. 

“Use of drugs and alcohol in the park during daylight hours remains a problem,” Blais stated.

Tree removals and pruning

The October 2022 snowstorm posed a major challenge with cleaning up broken branches and trees, although staff have done considerable work with their cleanup efforts, Blais said.

However, the department has fallen behind on tree pruning and removals on the park’s northwest side because staff can’t access that area with their bucket truck. There are currently many dead poplars near the library that need pruning or removing.

“Our hope is that this fall we can spend a week in there to clean the area up. Access to the south end of the west side is difficult, so we may need to consider removing more hedges either along Fairford or Langdon, (which) would allow us the proper access,” said Blais.

Pathways and stairwells

The park’s aging stone stairwells need to be assessed — a priority for 2024 — and repaired as some are tripping hazards, the report said. Meanwhile, the asphalt pathways are regular maintenance challenges because they continually crack and heave due to ground movement around the serpentine. 

Parks and rec plans to budget for crack sealing in 2024.

Winter maintenance

Crescent Park’s pathways are popular in the winter, but the snow often becomes packed before staff can enter with snow removal equipment, the report said. Freeze and thaw events also produce ice, which requires more attention. 

The department has trouble with equipment on the pathways near the serpentine because space is tight and has limited escape routes and areas to turn around, Blais added. 

However, after completing the trails and pathways master plan, the department will review its winter maintenance practices to identify ways to improve its resources and response to snow removal in well-used areas.

The next regular council meeting is Monday, Sept. 25. 

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