The Gilbert parks system is receiving a major boost with the September opening of the first 30 acres of what will be the 272-acre Gilbert Regional Park and the anticipated November opening of Phase I of the 115-acre Desert Sky Park.
“I would call it a great upgrade,” Mayor Jenn Daniels said before Gilbert Regional Park’s opening. “Our residents and our community have worked really hard to see this come to fruition. They participated in the design process, and they were here for every step of the way. They deserve this park, and I can’t wait to see them enjoy it.”
Between the two new parks, the town is bringing amenities that have been in short supply to the south side of town; adding fields to the inventory for youth sports; giving accessibility in play areas; making nearby homes more attractive to buyers; and aiding connectivity among residents for those who make use of the parks.
“I love it,” said Lyons Gate community resident Sarah Stidham, who was watching her 3-year-old son Dean play on the Gilbert Regional Park splash pad while wearing her 3-month-old, Coe, in a sling on her chest. “It’s massive, with the splash pad and the big slides. And it’s geared for all ages.”
Exploring variety of play
Gilbert Regional Park sits on a flood control plain that the town acquired from Maricopa County. The land included 47 acres of “high and dry” land. The first 30 acres, which make up the project’s Phase I, were built there.
That phase includes three playgrounds closely packed together: a 57-feature splash pad, “The Falls,” which Parks and Recreation Director Robert Carmona said is the biggest in the Valley; a smaller “tot” playground immediately next to the splash pad, “The Creek”; and “The Mountain” playground with three levels of play.
Designer Chad Atterbury of the project’s architecture firm, Dig Studio, said the density of the features opens up the exploratory aspect of play.
Swings, slides, a modern merry-go-round and climbing features adorn the playgrounds, and an accessible zip line feature is located on the park’s highest ground.
From that height, the park’s undeveloped land can be seen, with the site of the future event lawn, amphitheater and The Strand @ Gilbert water park all adjacent. Phase 1B, which is expected to be complete in about a year, will bring in the lawn, amphitheater, a 7-acre lake and sports courts.
Designed for all abilities
Daniels said her favorite feature of Gilbert Regional Park is that it is an all-abilities park—a park in which “anyone with any ability or disability can come here and find something that brings them joy.”
Accounting for accessibility was a big part of the design process, designer Atterbury said.
“It’s about making people feel welcome,” he said. “It’s about encouraging people to engage that might otherwise feel like, ‘This isn’t for me.’”
The park has slides, a merry-go-round and a zip line designed for loading a child from a wheelchair.
The mountain area has a winding path on one side and a walkway from the parking lot over a bridge to the top level on the other side.
“We use topography to kind of create accessible routes to things that, when you first looked at them, don’t appear accessible,” Atterbury said. “If you had a completely flattened play area and you created a 38-foot structure, very little of it would be accessible.”
Bringing value to community
Officials anticipate Gilbert Regional Park, as a regional park of its size, to be an asset for all of the town. But South Gilbert has never had such an amenity.
That void to the south was noticeable for Richard and Ashlyn Cunningham, who moved to Gilbert recently with their 2-year-old son, William.
“That’s the one thing we said [was missing],” Richard Cunningham said. “There wasn’t a great park right next to us.”
But as the couple explored the park with William and rode slides with him, they found that was no longer true.
“It adds a lot,” said Ashlyn Cunningham, who noted the splash pad makes it somewhere to go all year-round. “It adds a gathering place. It adds a destination—somewhere to take people.”
Increases in home values often get brought up as a benefit of neighborhood improvements, but the effect is more indirect, Realtor Janine Igliano from Keller Williams Realty East Valley said. Igliano said she often gets asked about the park pushing up home values but said it cannot be quantified.
“What it does do is it enhances the saleability, the attractiveness of that home, because of that added value—a home in a neighborhood with a lot of amenities,” she said. “Those homes tend to sell for more than the same home in a neighborhood without those amenities.”
Igliano, a Gilbert resident and park fan, said she also hears grumbles, mostly about the prospect of increased traffic, particularly when the water park opens in 2021.
But that apprehension is not a universal feeling. Michele Rayl, who lives about a mile from the park in The Bridges neighborhood, said she is pleased to have it nearby.
Rayl, mother to 10-year-old Elaine and 8-year-old Anderson, said it is “awesome” that towns are accommodating residents with such parks.
“Now,” Rayl said, “my kids, as they grow older, they can just ride their bikes over here and hang out at this huge facility, and there’s going to be open fields and everything else that there’s going to be, [and] a waterpark.”
Addressing sports fields need
Desert Sky District Park is scheduled to open Nov. 6. Phase 1 will bring online four multipurpose fields that can be used for a variety of sports. It also will have a 3.5-acre lake, walking trails and a fully shaded “ninja warrior-style” playground with an obstacle course with challenges for different ages.
Carmona called it more of a fitness park and said it could potentially draw a different demographic than Gilbert Regional Park.
Carmona also noted the town had previously found a large need for youth sports fields. When it is built-out, Desert Sky could have 16 fields.
“The demand for youth sports fields is a need in almost every community,” he said, “and you definitely feel it in Gilbert with the population and the demographics. So these parks coming online really are going to fill that void for the community.”