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Outdoor engineering

U. Earl Dunn

It has been in the planning stages for some time, and now the venerable Virginia Lake Park a popular spot for walking the dog, jogging or just relaxing is finally getting a facelift.

But full renovation of the 34-acre park with its lake that draws thousands of visitors annually may take several years.

That’s the assessment of Jeff Mann, parks manager for the Reno Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, who has been at the helm of designing a master plan to bring needed improvements.

Located in central Reno along Lakeside Drive, just northwest of the Peppermill Hotel and Casino,Virginia Lake Park was built in 1938.

Over the years, increased pedestrian use has combined with the elements to cause much of the former beauty to fall into disrepair.

“There have been those who have wanted the park renovated now for many years,” says Mann.”This is especially true of residents who live near the park.” In the 2000-2001 fiscal year, says Mann, the Reno City Council encouraged citizens who had requested improvements to form a committee to come up with ideas that would be incorporated into a master plan.

The result is the near-completion of the first of what will likely be four or five phases of renovation to Virginia Lake.”We are just now completing the initial phase at a cost of $323,000,” he says.

While full restoration costs can only be estimated, in today’s dollars, the price tag could approach $2.4 million.

The city hired the engineering firm of Stantec to work with the city parks staff and the citizens committee.

John Priester, a Stantec landscape architect, said everyone agreed that the area in most need of repair was the southwest corner.Mann described the area as “an open dirt lot.” The job of a landscape architect is to not only beautify an area, but to ensure it is compatible with the natural environment.

Also important in today’s society is that access to the park be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In this regard, future renovation activities will include the installation of a new pedestrian bridge that will be built to ADA standards.

Priester said the southwest corner of the park has seen other attempts in the past to improve it,”but none of them has worked out.We met many times with the committee and tried to incorporate as many of its ideas into the master plan as possible.

In this initial phase,we’ve done some seeding, along with improvement of a walkway.We’ve cleaned up that area and are redoing the crosswalks to ADA standards.” He said the first phase work will also allow the city to have maintenance access to the rest of the lake.Additionally, the initial phase calls for some slope stabilization where construction debris had appeared.”We are giving that corner a more natural appearance,” he says.

Work includes introduction of plants that are not only native to the area, but, where possible, Priester said they wanted plants to blend in with some of the vegetation already visible in the surrounding neighborhood.”We also have attempted to replicate some of the wet eco zones.We used the gradient of the park and irrigation techniques to use in-line drip systems at the top to create a better water soil volume so we can get the plants to root deeper.” There is no funding in this year’s city budget for a second phase.”The shoreline will be the next phase between the paved pathway and the lake,” says Mann.”This will be the most expensive portion and the earliest it could be funded would be in the July 2006 budget.” Mann says the city must tackle the erosion problem and do it soon.”Between the elements of wind and water, the lake is getting bigger and the shoreline is getting smaller,” he says.

“We need to improve the water quality and put in more aquatic plants.” The lake itself is fed by the Cochran Ditch from the Truckee River and from storm drains.

The water leaving the lake eventually returns to the Truckee.

Priester sees the role of a landscape architect as pivotal in preserving a public resource such as Virginia Lake and, at the same time, improving water quality.”This is an endlessly fascinating business,” he says.

Both Mann and Priester agree that a project such as the renovation of Virginia Lake can be accelerated if interest groups can assist the city in finding funds, either through community efforts or through a private foundation.

The master plan ultimately calls for consolidation of park lighting plans for safety and aesthetic needs, the replacement of restroom facilities, rehabilitation of the lawn areas, removal of older picnic tables and installation of new benches, and construction of additional parking.


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