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Wauwatosa resident Elizabeth Preston is very familiar with Center Street Park. She often makes the four-block walk to the park with her two young children.

"What I love about my community is that it's very walk-able," she said. "We can walk to restaurants and walk to the park."

But Preston said the park could use some work. Center Street Park is a Milwaukee County park that sits in the city of Milwaukee but is heavily used by Wauwatosa residents because of its proximity to the city. The park includes a playground, a pavilion building, athletic fields, picnic areas and a winter ice rink.

The playground is nearly 20 years old and it may be time for an upgrade, said Preston.

The Wauwatosa resident is the coordinator of a playground committee — a group of about 10 people that serves as an offshoot of the community organization Friends of Center Street Park. The organization has worked to improve the park and create a community gathering place over the last few years.

Some improvements made by the Friends of Center Street Park include the addition of a free, public ice rink in the winter made possible by donations from Waterstone Bank; an annual spring cleanup to help beautify the park; and a fall fest that includes activities such apumpkin carving, games, live music and local food and beverages.

Envisioning the future

The playground committee will hold a community visioning session at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 1 to brainstorm possible improvements for the playground and other open spaces at the park. The public is invited to attend.

Preston said she hopes the focus group will elicit information from community members about what kids and families like to do at the park and what adults remember being their favorite parts of playgrounds while growing up. Preston said there will also be a group of children involved in the focus group who will brainstorm things they'd like to see at the playground as "the kids are the ones that are going to be utilizing the equipment," Preston said.

Some ideas have already been tossed around, including the installation of a brand-new, nature-inspired playground — something that may not be straight from a catalog and include "cookie cutter" equipment, Preston said. The committee may address updates to an on-site pavilion, too.

"We want to make it a destination for families," Preston said.

Although the playground committee is still in its early stages, members have already began to contemplate how to fund changes. It's possible money would come from fundraisers and donors and Milwaukee County could chip in, too.

Milwaukee County makes a move

The Milwaukee County Parks Department is in a period of evaluating its park system.

The department has launched "Parks with Purpose," a campaign that recognizes a period of intense planning to position the county park system for success in 2017 and beyond. Planning efforts include a 10-year master plan which will provide recommendations for facilities, programs and services, maintenance, operation and the management of the park system. Efforts also include a 2050 park and open space plan, which will address long-range considerations, including the preservation of environmental corridors, land conservation and recreational use of water bodies, and also update a similar plan initiated in 1991, said Parks Director John Dargle, Jr.

"We want to hear from the community about how we're doing," he said.

Dargle said the department has set aside some money to abate lead paint and install a new protective coating at Center Street Park's pavilion sometime this fall.

The parks department is holding a number of public workshops this fall to gather community input. A session will be held Oct. 5 at Center Street Park in the community room, 6420 W. Clarke St. The workshop begins at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation, followed by interactive workshops from 7 to 8 p.m.

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