By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald

Visitors to most of Killeen’s parks are likely to find old-school swings and slides. However, the city is looking beyond tradition and toward innovation.

In the last 10 years, all 31 parks and playgrounds have been systematically upgraded to not only make them more accessible, but more fun as well.

“We still include old things, like swings, but we try to diversify each park and not do everything the same, said Brett Williams, Killeen’s director of parks and recreation. “We call it the rebirth of the playground.”

Killeen has identified three parks — Conder, Lions Club and Long Branch — as being community parks for the city’s central, southern and northern areas, respectively. Williams said these larger parks are becoming more popular with residents.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of usage we’re getting at these parks,” said Williams, adding while his department does not keep regular counts of people visiting the parks, his staff has noticed a clear increase in visitations and use.

Williams said part of the reason for the increased usage are the renovations that were done over the last decade.

For example, instead of mulch covering playgrounds, the city installed harder surfaces.

“The user has more access,” he said. “For example, as soon as the rain stops, you can go out and play.”

Another factor Williams mentioned is an increase in units from Fort Hood using the parks for physical training in the early morning.

“We’ve had as many as 300 soldiers on the Andy K. Wells Hike and Bike Trail at once,” he said.

“(Using Killeen’s parks) eliminates the difficulty of getting on base at 5 a.m. We’ve become the ideal place to do PT.”

Another thing the city tries to do is bring the park to the user, instead of asking the user to go to the park. Killeen has several smaller neighborhood parks, such as Santa Rosa Park on Eva Street, that have become quite popular.

“People love the neighborhood parks. The usage there is unreal,” said Williams. “You don’t have to get in your car. It’s convenient. You can get there on foot.”

Glenn Morrison, Killeen’s interim city manager, was formerly the city’s parks and recreation director.

He said he’s been amazed at the parks’ evolution.

“Parks have evolved from when I was in the parks and recreation world, which wasn’t too long ago,” said Morrison. “There was a focus on sports and athletics. As we’ve evolved and diversified our approach and our opportunities in parks, you start to see hike and bike trails, which has been about as positive a development in our parks system as anything.”

The city currently has two such trails — the Andy K. Wells Hike and Bike Trail, which originates on 38th Street and continues for 2.5 miles along Nolan Creek, and the 1.3-mile Lions Club Park trail, which traverses the Lions Club Park complex, encompassing eight baseball and softball fields, aquatic center, family recreation center and Senior Center.

Morrison said he’s also pleased the soldiers have discovered city parks, and hoped they use it for more than training.

“It’s a new opportunity for soldiers to know what’s in their community,” he said. “Our hope is they return with their families and enjoy the parks in a different way”