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Novato Parks/Rec. advisory panel to discuss future{Recreation, Cultural, Community}

Thursday, August 09, 2007
6:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Event Type:
Location Details:
Margaret Todd Senior Center at 1560 Hill Road.

Meeting length a guess

Parks and rec advisory panel to discuss its future
Staff Report
Article Launched: 08/06/2007 07:48:11 PM PDT from

The Novato Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission will discuss plans to continue its work in a new Recreation, Cultural and Community Services Commission once the present commission is disbanded.

The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Margaret Todd Senior Center at 1560 Hill Road.

For more information, call 899-8900.

City of Novato - Athletics
The Novato Parks, Recreation & Community Services Department sponsors an adult athletic program that stresses high participation, recreation and ... - 86k - Cached -

Novato envisions creating its own 'Golden Gate Park'
Rob Rogers
Article Launched: 08/03/2006 01:14:00 AM PDT

Click photo to enlarge
THINKING BIG: Larry Dito, director of parks, recreation and community services in Novato, walks...

Novato officials are revisiting the city's 20-year-old plans to create what could become the county's largest municipal park.

Since 1969, city officials have debated what to do with O'Hair Park, 150 acres of woods and meadows between San Marin High School and Stafford Lake Park. The potential is enormous: the city's 1986 master plan calls for athletic fields, an equestrian center, an indoor pool and even an amphitheater at the site.

"This could be Novato's Golden Gate Park," said Larry Dito, city director of parks, recreation and community services. "And yet there's a lot of new people in town who don't know what we have here."

But while the park is immense, the cost of developing it could be just as huge. The city's Parks and Recreation Commission estimates it would cost $25 million just to prepare the site for improvements.

With a cash-strapped City Council considering $138 million in capital projects - including a new City Hall and recreational facilities for Hamilton - many wonder whether O'Hair Park will ever become anything more than a dream.

"This is a tremendous resource that we have, and it's being underutilized," said Marilyn Sweeney, a park and recreation
Click Here!
commissioner. "Within one location, it could meet all the (recreational) needs of Novato. But if we want to make long-range plans for the park, we need to start now."

Situated at the western edge of Novato, O'Hair Park encompasses the Morningstar Farms equestrian ranch, the popular Dogbone Meadows dog park and a segment of the Bay Ridge Trail. Indian artifacts up to 3,000 years old have been found along the segment of Novato Creek that flows through the park, and a barn where members of the Grateful Dead played and recorded once stood in its meadows.

The city began buying the former ranch lands from the O'Hair and Fuchs families in 1969, finally completing the purchase in 1985. City officials had originally envisioned O'Hair as a kind of amusement park, with merry-go-rounds and slides.

By 1976, however, planners decided to keep most of the park in its natural state for use by day camps, hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Only the northeast corner of the park (where Morningstar Farms now stands) would receive extensive development, becoming baseball and soccer fields and tennis courts.

The city formalized those ideas in its 1986 master plan for O'Hair, which recommended partnerships with other civic organizations to help pay for the costly improvements. For example, city officials suggested an alliance with the school district to build a pool that could be used by park visitors and by San Marin High School.

"I think it's a great idea," said San Marin swim coach Jim Larson. "There are virtually no public pools in Marin that the general public can use without a membership."

Other organizations, such as athletic or theater groups, could obtain long-term leases from the city to build and operate properties at the park. Three successive horse ranches have followed this plan, providing the city with 9 percent of their income while occupying 23 acres of O'Hair. The most recent tenant, Morningstar Farms, is in the third year of a five-year lease with the city.

"We've had a very good relationship with the city all along," said Kevin Byars, one of the ranch's owners.

Morningstar provides riding lessons, training and summer riding camps for young people throughout the county. While the city's master plan calls for the relocation of the farm to the southwest corner of the park, city officials have indicated they're open to the possibility of keeping the facility where it is.

"We understand that the city has to do what it has to do, though ideally we'd like to stay where we are," Byars said. "Certainly, we'd like to be involved with the city in some way, shape or form in what it decides to do with the site."

A move to the park appeals to Colleen Hicks, executive director of the Marin Museum of the American Indian. The 1986 plan calls for the museum to move to a new community center at the park, which would also include function rooms and a parks department headquarters.

"Where we are now is on a village site, which has a powerful effect on the 60,000 children who come here every year," Hicks said. "But there's a village site there, too, and there's a lot more space."

Yet others have questioned whether additional facilities at O'Hair would be worth the city's investment.

"With amphitheaters at Dominican college and at Hamilton, do we need a third in Marin?" asked Jeffrey Trotter, executive director of Shakespeare at Stinson.

During the past two decades, Novato added both Dogbone Meadows and the 2.92-mile Reuben Kaehler Trail to the park. Otherwise, O'Hair has remained virtually untouched, its groves of coast live oak, big leaf maple and California buckeye rarely visited by local hikers.

Park and recreation commissioners hope to change that. The commission plans to present a plan for expanding O'Hair's trails to the City Council next year.

"We'd like the city to do a minimal development of the park," said John Reuscher, chairman of the Novato Parks and Recreation Commission. "We could build up the hiking paths and biking paths that could connect the park to county property, and draw community attention to the park."

But those efforts could be hampered by the park's location. While O'Hair could provide countless activities for children, most of Novato's young families live in Hamilton, at the opposite end of the city. The park will be competing for funds with popular projects such as the Hamilton pool, a new Hamilton gymnasium and a Hamilton museum.

Director Dito believes it's still possible.

"We don't look at providing facilities for Hamilton and other facilities for Novato," Dito said. "We provide community facilities for the entire city. If this park was in the middle of town - if we had a hundred acres at the intersection of DeLong and Diablo - I'd be very happy. We don't. But we do own this property.

"The city has a lot of needs," he added. "This park could go a long way toward satisfying them."

Read more Novato stories at the IJ's Novato page.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers [at]

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