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Benefits of Site Master Planning for Parks

DLZ regularly partners with clients to create master plans for parks and recreation facilities. A great site master plan can help you identify program needs, conduct spatial planning, and receive public input. It also assists in setting realistic budgets and develop long-term phasing when needed. Site master plans and the resulting documentation can be utilized to boost your success in fundraising and grant applications for park improvements. Having a clear vision and mission is critical when approaching public officials and potential donors.

Insight into Site Master Plans

Often there is confusion about what a site master plan entails. In a nutshell, a site master plan is a high-level plan for overall, often long term, development of a specific site. It usually includes site analysis and identification of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT). It reflects conceptual needs and desires for the site, including but not limited to types and sizes of buildings, site amenities such as sports fields, picnic areas, and playgrounds, and natural areas to be protected. A site master plan also takes into account the pedestrian and vehicular circulation, and appropriate orientations and adjacencies between all the onsite elements. It provides a structured approach, clear framework and planning level cost for developing the site.

A site master plan is NOT planning of more than one site or addressing parks’ system planning (5-Year Parks Master Plan) nor is it detailed development of a site plan suitable for construction and/or bidding (Design Development/Construction Documents).

Stages of Site Master Planning

Our process typically includes 4 general stages: Project Kickoff, Inventory and Programming, Preliminary Master Plan and Final Master Plan. The inventory and analysis allows us to identify major constraints or conflicts upfront and gain a thorough understanding of project site. Through programming discussions with our clients and during public input sessions, we gain consensus on needed improvements, help to prioritize ‘wants’ vs. ‘needs’, brainstorm and vet many different ideas, and identify potential partnerships and funding sources early. We take this information gained and use it as the basis for the design of the site master plan. The resulting master plan identifies all proposed improvements and critical adjacencies.

Typically we will have at least 2 master plan concepts for our clients to review at the Preliminary stage. After reviewing with clients and stakeholders or hosting a public meeting, we narrow down the concept to create a Final Master Plan. This plan then helps you communicate a professional plan of action and demonstrate consensus of community. It codifies a long-term vision for a park which leaves no room for no willy-nilly improvements creating obstacles.

Funding and Grants

It provides a realistic basis for immediate funding allocations or long-term budgetary planning for both construction costs and ‘soft costs’ (i.e. professional services, survey, geotechnical investigations, etc.) It can identify project partners and potential funding sources such as Land and Water Conservation Fund grants. This can then be used as supporting documentation for grant applications such as narratives and probable cost opinions.

Graphics can play an important part in communicating your master plan vision. We frequently utilize color-rendered site plans and 3-D renderings. We love that these graphics can serve so many purposes for our clients, from grant documentation to use on social media to create buzz about your projects, park system, and future programming.

At DLZ, we love to see the communities in which we live and work grow in a positive direction. Site master planning is just one way we can help achieve that shared vision. It is our goal that our designs reflect the needs and character of their communities. The best reward is knowing we have helped create spaces for residents and visitors alike to enjoy!

Native Plants: A Recipe for Project Success

DLZ’s landscape architects carefully select plant species on each of our projects to meet clients’ specific needs, and these selections frequently include native plants. Let’s talk about four great reasons for utilizing native plants on your next project.

#1 – Lower Maintenance and Increased Sustainability.

The number one request we hear from clients is for low maintenance landscapes. One of the best ways we can accommodate this is by specifying native plants. These plant species are acclimated to the soil, temperature, and rainfall conditions of the project area. This means they are likely to utilize less fertilizer and pesticides and require less irrigation throughout their lives, which conveniently may translate into lower annual costs for your organization.

#2 – Avoid Contributing to Degradation of Natural Resources.

We have all seen the lovely white blooms of the Callery pear along roadsides in the spring or the bright hues of purple loosestrife along ditches and streams. Beautiful, right? WRONG. These plants and others like them are taking over natural areas, putting native species at risk of endangerment and lowering the biodiversity within our landscapes. Invasive plants are not only degrading our plant ecosystems, but they also contribute to maintenance issues both on traditional commercial, municipal, and residential project sites and within our natural areas such as state parks. The costs of removal, chemical treatments, and revegetation can really add up; Invasive species cost the U.S. over $120 billion in damages every year, according to publications from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, many species that are considered invasive are still for sale in the nursery industry, such as barberry, wintercreeper, English ivy, and Norway maples. To increase your knowledge before your next project review or your next trip to the home improvement center, check out the available resources listed below and know what to avoid.

#3 – Meet Permitting Requirements. 

Permit agencies such as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources require native species for mitigation on projects. Most agencies can provide a list of preferred plants that are native to your state and region. It is important to note that frequently ‘straight species’ natives are required. ‘Cultivars’ (a plant selected for desirable characteristics that can be maintained by propagation) are often restricted as they do not provide the same genetic diversity as a straight species. They may also lack features of the straight species such as seed, nectar, and pollen production.

#4 – Increase Wildlife Habitat.

Birdwatching in Spring 2020 may have enjoyed more popularity than ever before. Using native plants can attract wildlife to your backyard by providing food and shelter. Certain species have greater wildlife value based on fruit and seed timing and supply as well as plant structure for shelter and nesting. Native flowering plants can help attract pollinators. Reducing lawn areas and replacing this with native plantings promotes biodiversity, reduces chemical use and air pollution, and increases the opportunity for habitat.


The Indiana Native Plant Society ( provides information on landscape worthy native plants, buying resources, Indiana’s invasive plant list, and many more educational materials.

The Center for Invasive species and Ecosystem Health ( is a governmental and university partnership that provides invasive species lists, maps, and photos.

Many state natural resources departments also publish lists of invasive plants.

The Audubon Society provides a native plant database at

The U.S. Forest Service provides information on plant hardiness zones, landscaping for wildlife, and other topics at

Penn State Extension offers many resources on landscaping for wildlife such as this article 

Are Your Parks Accessible to All?

Parks serve several important purposes within a community. They provide access to programs such as sports and education, health benefits from exercise and access to nature, and an opportunity for socialization and community involvement. Frequently though, accessibility for persons with disabilities is overlooked or does not meet current standards, limiting the enjoyment of park benefits for some members of our communities. However, there are many opportunities to improve accessibility. These opportunities may be ideal for local community groups wishing to sponsor park improvement on limited funding, park maintenance staff work, or integration with larger park projects.

Opportunity 1 – Create Accessible Routes: Accessible routes are a critical component to providing access for park users. These routes are required to be firm, stable, and slip resistant and should provide connection between all areas of activity, such as parking, ball fields, trail heads, shelters, etc. Projects could include installation of sidewalks, asphalt paths, or pathways of select compacted stabilized aggregates. Additionally, exterior ramps with handrails and landings can be constructed to improve access to raised areas currently served by stairs, such as shelters and performance platforms.

Opportunity 2 – Improve Athletic Facility Access: Accessible routes should connect to the boundaries of fields and courts. (Note that the actual area of sport activity itself is exempt from a number of requirements so as to not change the nature of the activity.) Wheelchair seating is required in player seating areas. This can be as simple as adding the appropriate size paved space within an existing unpaved seating area or removing segments of fixed benches to accommodate space needed for a person’s wheelchair. At bleacher seating, wheelchair spaces, aisle seats, and connections to accessible routes are also required based on the seating capacity. If you have a public announcement/audio amplification system, consider providing assistive listening devices for park users with hearing impairments. These simple fixes allow everyone to be included in the park programming and share the experiences!

Opportunity 3 – Ensure Site Furnishings are Accessible: Nearly every park has some type of site furnishings, such as benches, picnic tables, grills, trash cans, and drinking fountains. Related projects could include connecting them to the nearest accessible route, providing clear, level ground spaces at picnic tables, grills, ends of benches, and at approaches to trash cans and drinking fountains. Upgrade old drinking fountains; a minimum of 2 are required to provide access to both standing persons and wheelchair users, with different heights and dimensional requirements for each.

Opportunity 4 – Provide Clear and Concise Information through Signage: The International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) is easily recognizable and communicates which areas of your facility are compliant. The ISA can be used to identify dedicated parking spaces and accessible restrooms. This symbol also provides direction to accessible routes and building entrances, making it easier for persons with disabilities to find the most convenient and useable areas of your park or facility. Trail signage can be added to identify trail conditions and level of difficulty so users may make informed decisions on how to recreate safely. Most signage is subject to requirements for mounting heights, font types, sizes, and contrast, so be sure to check the guidelines when designing new signage.

In addition to utilizing experienced design professionals on your projects, the U.S. Access Board is a great resource for your community. As stated on their website, the Access Board is an independent federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards. Their website ( provides many avenues to get clarification and specific technical requirements of the items above, such as complete texts of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and guidelines, webinars, animations, research data, newsletters on accessibility topics, and more.

A key point to remember is that better accessibility expands the park experience for all. It improves ease of physical access, whether you are a person using a wheelchair or other mobility device, parents with strollers, or those of us just loaded down with kids’ sports gear and picnic supplies. Most importantly, increased accessibility fosters inclusion and equality for persons of all ages and abilities.