What if parks got reviewed like restaurants? Meet Inspector DAN.

When a blade of grass is out of place, he knows

Mary Fox Park got the only A-grade
Editor's note: Restaurant reviews are famous for the level of detailed scrutiny they apply to conditions at local eateries. That got us thinking: What if the same attention to detail was turned on public facilities and infrastructure? Could be interesting, we figured, so we dispatched reporter Joe Beman (a.k.a Inspector DAN) and his eagle eye to five small Greater Downtown parks. Here's what he found:
Forest Park: A-minus

Address: 210 16th SW (map) (web
Inspection date: March 23, 2022

The basics: Forest Park is a .83-acre urban park located in the Huning Castle neighborhood. It is off of Sixteenth Street a couple of blocks southwest of Central.

First impressions: The oval-shaped green space is located near multi-story urban buildings but provides a quiet and peaceful respite from the bustle that is just a couple of blocks away. Bird song is the most prominent noise and the park is otherwise mostly quiet. The well-established neighborhood with large older homes and lots of trees also provides a noise buffer. At the time I visited nobody was using the park, but some dog walkers strolled by and seemed to enjoy the scenery, which is (mostly) well-kept green grass and a generous collection of cottonwood trees.

Noise: The 10-minute average decibel meter reading was 31.0 dB, the rough equivalent of a quiet rural area, according to this chart from Purdue University.

Amenities: There isn't much in the way of facilities designed for group activities (jungle gym, basketball court, etc.). The park has a total of six trash cans. There are two dog-poop-bag dispensers (located in the south end of the park and one on the east side) and two benches in the middle.

Condition: The park was entirely free of trash. The grass is mostly green and in good condition with a few brownish areas. The trash cans were not overflowing, the poop bag dispensers were stocked and the benches were clean and free of graffiti.

Final thoughts: Forest Park is a quintessential quiet neighborhood park that provides Huning Castle residents a little slice of green to just relax and unwind. The lack of recreational amenities and small size keeps it from being a destination facility for residents from other nearby neighborhoods in the city - though that may be just fine with the neighbors who can enjoy this small, quiet gem as their own.

Grade: A-minus

What would it take to get a perfect score: Fix the bare spots in the grass.

Mary Fox Park: A

Address: 401 13th NW (map) (web
Inspection date: June 15, 2022

The basics: Mary Fox Park is a .82-acre urban park located along Roma Avenue between Thirteenth and Fourteenth. It is between Lomas and Central, just east of Old Town. (It also comes with a historic pedigree - DAN, 7/30/20.)

First impressions: The aesthetically pleasing rectangular-shaped neighborhood park is a true multi-use facility. It has a playground, ample shade provided by numerous trees, and plenty of opportunities for people to gather, relax and enjoy a picnic meal.

Noise: The 10-minute average decibel meter reading was 39.5 dB - roughly the level of a library. Most of the noise was provided by cars slowly passing on Fourteenth, cicadas, and lawn mowers in the distance.

Amenities: Despite the relatively small space, this park is chockablock with amenities. There is a children's play area and several metal picnic tables that are all in good condition. Seven of the nine park benches are located in a designed, circular-shaped area with shade provided by a tree-branch-covered pergola. There are two dog poop bag stations and a total of six trash cans. A bike rack sits at the west end of the park.

Condition: The park was entirely free of trash. The grass is mostly green and in good condition but could have used mowing at the time of the review. The kids play area was clean and the equipment looked well maintained. The trash cans were not overflowing, the poop bag dispensers were stocked and the benches were clean and free of graffiti. The landscaping included flowers that appeared to be cared for and the trees appeared healthy.

Final thoughts: Mary Fox Park is a small yet delightful piece of real estate that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. A family can let the kids run wild in the tot lot while the others can relax and set out a picnic meal on one of the many tables. This is also a great place for small groups to have a gathering. There is plenty of shade provided by an impressive variety of trees.

Grade: A

Eddie Garcia Park: C
The inspector found a lot to like about Eddie Garcia Park, but not the bare patches of earth.

Address: 1129 8th SW (map) (web
Inspection date: June 28, 2022

The basics: Eddie Garcia Park is a .12-acre neighborhood park on Eighth between Elroy and Cromwell in Barelas.

First impressions: This is a classic "pocket park" and is occupied by a concrete basketball court. There is also a children's play area that is in fair shape. At first glance, the park seems a bit cluttered and unkempt, but oddly welcoming.

Noise: The 10-minute average decibel meter reading was 49.5 dB, with most of the noise coming from traffic on Eighth.

Amenities: There is a basketball court that takes up most of the north half of the park. The rest of the park is mostly a tot lot/play area and a sandbox type of feature that is surrounded by disparate items such as giant tic-tac-toe, a mirror, and toy dirt movers. There is one trash can, a bike rack, and two picnic tables. There are no dog poop bag dispensers. A large light in the center of the park makes the park suitable for night use.

Condition: Despite the seemingly unused trash can at the entrance, there were empty bottles, cans, cups, and other litter scattered about the park. The sandbox seemed a little like a mud pit after recent rains. On a positive note, there is a nice variety of healthy trees. The basketball court and play areas are in good condition. There are several bare ground areas that practically scream out for grass or other landscaping.

Final thoughts: Eddie Garcia Park is a good neighborhood facility for parents to take young kids to play on the playground equipment or for people looking to play basketball. This is not a park with open space or grass for relaxing or picnics. It could be a small neighborhood gem if it were to be cleaned up and beautified a bit.

Grade: C

What would it take to get a perfect score: Pick up the trash and perhaps move the trash can toward the center of the park so it is more convenient to use. Add some landscaping to the small open areas that are currently just bare dirt.

West Old Town Park: C-minus
At West Old Town Park, the inspector's verdict was this: uninviting on the outside but pleasant on the inside.

Address: 3498 Mountain Rd. NW (map) (web
Inspection date: June 28, 2022

The basics: West Old Town Park is a 2.0 acre multi-purpose park located at the west end of Mountain Road. It is next to the entrance to a spur trail to the bosque bike path.

First impressions: The entrance to the park consists of a large vehicle gate that seems to be almost always locked, and a pedestrian gate off to the side of that. From the outside, that made it seem very uninviting, as did the tall chain-link fence complete with barbed wire that surrounds the entire park. The facility is bordered to the north by some sort of industrial storage yards and to the south by BioPark facilities. After summoning up the courage to use the pedestrian entrance, however, the park opened up as an attractive open space replete with grass and other amenities. This place has potential.

Noise: 10-minute average decibel meter reading was 43.8 dB, with most of the noise coming from a distant leaf blower and industrial equipment nearby.

Amenities: Near the park entrance there is a children's play area with ample equipment and a sand base. Most of the remainder of the park is covered with grass and cottonwood trees. There are four picnic tables throughout the park, two benches near the entrance (and play area), a bike rack, three trash cans, and one dog poop bag dispenser.

Condition: Beyond the rough entry to the park, most of the amenities listed above are in decent condition. The facility is free of trash and graffiti, but there were weeds growing in the play area and leaf litter and stick debris around the park perimeter. The grass was in need of mowing and the poop bag dispenser was empty. One safety concern: Some sort of small animal (I'd guess prairie dogs) has dug holes in the tall grass that could present a hazard to people running through the park.

Final thoughts: If you get past the dystopian vibe given off by the entrance, you find a park that is clean and green with amenities that are in decent condition. With the proximity to the bosque trail, some improvements would make this a fine destination park for many to enjoy.

Grade: C-minus

What would it take to get a perfect score: Do something about the entrance. Potential improvements could include opening the gates during the day and turning the small, unfinished area just inside the gates into a small parking area or just a more inviting entryway. Cleaning up the stick debris and leaf litter, pulling weeds in the play area, and filling the dog bag dispenser would also go a long way. Doing something about the holes in the tall grass would improve safety. 

Wells Park: B

Address: 591 Mountain NW  (map) (web
Inspection date: June 29, 2022

The basics: Wells Park is a 2.24-acre park located at Fifth and Mountain, adjacent to the Johnny Tapia Community Center. The park is off-limits to non-community center activities weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. since last year (DAN, 10/26/21). But outside of that, it's open to the public and is actually slated to be expanded to the presently-vacant square block to the north.

First impressions: Most of the park is surrounded by a fence and is accessed from Sixth Street through small entrances at the north and south ends. The south side of the park is a well-kept grassy area with some shade trees. The north end is occupied by two concrete basketball courts. Johnny Tapia Community Center is on the east side, and the park can also be accessed through its parking lot.

Noise: 10-minute average decibel meter reading was 45.1 dB, with noise sources being traffic along Sixth, the thumping of basketballs on concrete, and the usual banter emanating from the pickup basketball games.

Amenities: The main amenities are the two basketball courts and the large grassy area. Between them is a shaded picnic area with two metal picnic tables. There is a child play area within the confines of the adjacent community center. There is one trash can, though instead of the usual steel can within a concrete housing, this is a plastic affair unceremoniously placed by the fence. There are no dog-poop-bag dispensers.

Condition: The grass is well kept and free of bare spots but was a small amount of trash and other debris, particularly around the perimeter. The one trash can was overflowing and had a foul odor. The basketball court is in good shape but the water fountain wasn't working. The picnic tables are clean, freshly painted, and inviting. 

Final thoughts: Wells Park, along with its community center neighbor, give the local community some welcome recreation options amidst the surrounding urban environment. It's a shame that circumstances have led to a situation where it is closed for over 52 hours per week.

Grade: B

What would it take to get a perfect score: Clean up the clutter along the park's perimeter. Also, adding some trash cans within the park (perhaps one in the picnic area, one in the basketball courts, and one at the south end) may go a long way to prevent further littering and overflowing.

—By Joe Beman
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