Parks task force distributes surveys, hears from public at Hodag Home Show

March 29, 2017

Jamie Taylor

Northwoods River News

Alexander: Home show a good first outing for group

After a month of meetings and planning sessions, the Rhinelander Parks Public Engagement Task Force met with the public Saturday at the Hodag Home Show at Rhinelander High School to gather input to pass along to the city's parks, buildings and grounds committee.

Myles Alexander of the Oneida County UW-Extension, the group's faciliator, characterized the group's first foray into interacting with the public as "good exposure to a variety of people."

"I think it turned out well, we were in an excellent location, right at the entry there," Alexander said. "Everyone that came in saw us and I think it was important for people to know that the task force is there and active."

Those who attended the home show were given the opportunity to fill out open-ended surveys, along with shorter ones, on what they would like to see going forward with regard to Rhinelander parks. Alexander said over 100 people took the time to fill out one survey or the other. In addition, many people left contact information so they can be informed when the April public events will take place.

"We also handed out a lot of information sheets on how people can register for the online engagement platform," Alexander said, referring to the PlaceSpeak website.

Due to the open-ended nature of the long comment sheets, it will be a while before the task force will be able to distill the information into an easy-to-grasp summary, he added.

"A lot of people gave what looked to be very thoughtful responses; they wrote quite a bit," Alexander said. "Now we have the job of recording all that and making sense of it."

He said the sheets, along with anything else the groups gleans from the public through April, will be turned over to the parks committee. From there, the committee will use it to put the finishing touches on the parks master plan. Some of the information may also be used to tweak the city's outdoor recreation plan. Alexander said he hopes that he can find people in the groups that make up the task force that have the skills to help transcribe and compile the responses into an easier to use form as well as complete an analysis.

"We're starting to swim in data," Alexander said. "These open-ended questions are very, very valuable, but they are also very hard to deal with. You can crunch numbers pretty easily, but when people write out (answers), it's a different type of analysis."

The task force met March 16 to prepare for the home show and to start roughing out the two public engagement events the group is planning to hold in April.

Alexander had originally intended to use these sessions as a way to gather information on what activities and features people would like to see in each park. However, Rob Deede of the Hodag BMX Club and other members of the task force quickly pointed out that anything beyond general discussions could result in unreasonable expectations among those in attendance, especially if the parks committee doesn't use the information as submitted.

Deede suggested going with more a town hall format, but Alexander objected, claiming those events tend to deteriorate into arguments.

"At some point, we are going to have to have a town hall meeting," insisted RHS activities director Brian Paulson.

When contacted Monday, Alexander said there seems to be some confusion between himself and the other members of the task force on language.

"I need to figure that out. I've been very clear that the public hearing style as a quasi-judicial style of public engagement which occurs at the end of a process typically is not the best way to get public input, have discussions where people can hear each other, learn from each other, discuss possibilities and come to decisions among themselves," he said.

He added that doesn't know where the task force will eventually go with the April meetings, but that subject will be a topic of discussion at the group's March 30 meeting set for at 6 p.m. at the Curran Building.

Jamie Taylor may be reached at