Established in 1921, Franke Park has served the recreational needs of the community and the region for nearly 100 years. In 1926, Arthur Shurtleff created a “General Plan” for the park featuring curving boulevards, gently meandering paths, open lawn areas, sites for several prominent structures, a lake, and an area for native animals featuring deer, elk, bison and bears. While the plan was never fully implemented, portions of it have formed the park we know today.
Since the development of Shurtleff’s plan, the park has enjoyed tremendous success as a recreational resource and home to several of the City’s most important programs, entertainment venues, and recreational assets. The Children’s Zoo is the most visited cultural resource in the City of Fort Wayne, drawing more than 600,000 visitors per year and fueling the local economy with millions of dollars. Foellinger Theatre has a capacity of 2,751 and hosts 6-8 concerts per year of major name acts. Franke Park also features the largest hiking and mountain bike trail system in the region, drawing cyclists from 2-3 hours away.
Programming in the park has also been increasingly popular for many years. The Franke Park Day Camp program has been in operation since 1946 and has served several generations of Fort Wayne families. The Fantasy of Lights event each November and December draws over 20,000 people to the park for a seasonal display of lights, raising money for Blue Jacket, an organization that provides training and opportunities to anyone with a barrier who is striving to earn gainful employment. Finally, the BMX track draws hundreds of cyclists each year from around the state to compete and train.
In spite of its tremendous success, the park suffers from a number of challenges, including periodic flooding, issues with traffic circulation and wayfinding, and parking efficiency. The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department knew that these challenges must be addressed through the development of a master plan so that the community may continue to enjoy Franke Park for the next 100 years.
The master planning process occurred from September 2018 through April 2019 and was directed by Alec Johnson, Deputy Director of Planning and Development for the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, RATIO Architects, and an Advisory Group consisting of major park stakeholders. In addition to advice and guidance from the Advisory Group, the process included a robust public input component. The planning team conducted interviews with more than 60 individual stakeholders, and an online portal to the process was created that disseminated information about the planning process and resulted in more than 1600 responses to two separate surveys, and two public open house events drew more than 150 residents.
Out of this process, a community-driven master plan has emerged that aligns with the plan’s guiding principles and provides a solid foundation for future improvements while also providing flexibility in the timing of its implementation. Notable highlights of the plan include:
• The establishment of an organized and thoughtful vehicular circulation system
• Additional parking for Foellinger Theatre and the Zoo
• The creation of over 5 miles of new pedestrian paths
• Additional cycling amenities like showers, shelters, improved wayfinding and bike maintenance facilities
• An emphasis on the landscape as an important part of the park experience
• New vehicular and pedestrian gateways into the park that improve access and circulation
• Two new playgrounds
• New shelters, a boat house, a Day Camp building and Community/Nature Center
• Ecological improvements to Shoaff Lake and Spy Run
The Franke Park Master Plan is available for view at frankeparkplan.com or fortwayneparks.org. Comments or questions can be directed to Alec Johnson, Deputy Director of Park Planning and Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.